How churches help public school students

“What an opportunity we have to not live in vain.”

This is something I hear myself say often – and in today’s society, we truly need to recognize and grab each great opportunity that presents itself so that indeed we do not live in vain.

When I accepted the position as the director of schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools, I knew it would be an opportunity to not live in vain.

Aware of the great challenges, I knew we could overcome them as a community.

I knew that making this school district great wouldn’t happen from the top down. It would come from the community supporting, expecting, pushing and, yes, even praying.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting many people anxious to help our public school system. I have been encouraged.

One of the groups working to support our schools and to create an improved environment for students and teachers alike is Operation Andrew, a Christian-based, non-profit organization that provides volunteers, mentors, financial assistance and spiritual guidance for many aspects of our community.

Operation Andrew’s United 4 Hope program pairs churches with Metro schools, where the churches assist in four key areas.

1 They support the schools’ goals of improving academic achievement.

2 They encourage and assist teachers by coordinating supply drives – or simply offering moral support.

3 They encourage increased family engagement.

4 Finally, they help schools with supplies, uniforms and other financial aspects.

The overall goal is to help students improve their knowledge and self-confidence — to make it clear that each student is important and that we all care about them! In the end, the students should see new possibilities and envision themselves succeeding in high school and college.

Our churches are a powerful resource that we often overlook. Nashville has approximately 900 churches with hundreds of thousands of members who each have their own individual gifts.

Could you use your gifts in helping others, especially our young people? We have approximately 89,000 students in Metro, many who could use a mentor. Is it you?

Our students represent 120 different countries and speak 95 different languages. They have a wide variety of needs and interests — and sadly, over 70 percent of our students live in poverty.

We need to ask ourselves what we can each do on a personal level – to help meet the needs of our young people here in the metro area.

Each of us has personal gifts to offer. Some have the gift of time and could volunteer as a mentor for a student – be it through United 4 Hope or some other program that renders similar benefits.

Some have the gift of funds to contribute financially to causes like United 4 Hope – that will enable the program (or others like it) to serve and continue its positive impact on our city. Others have the gift of experience, but we can all serve. We can all have an impact!

We must acknowledge that, though we’ve accomplished a great deal, we still are challenged to meet the needs of every student. We can do something about that! If a child comes to us disadvantaged and leaves us disadvantaged, then we’ve missed an opportunity.

The Operation Andrew staff and founders are to be commended for creating a program like United 4 Hope, as well as their additional programs that combat other needs in our community.

Programs designed to break down barriers of race, gender, denomination, economic status or any other barrier that keeps Christians from being one in Christ.

I encourage you to help outreach programs like those offered by Operation Andrew. I encourage you to help the children of our city.

I encourage you to help each other in business, in parenting, in all the aspects that make a difference in our lives. Because as the old Bill Withers’ song says, “We all need somebody to lean on.”

But most importantly, reaching out to serve gives all of us a grand opportunity to not live in vain!

-        Shawn Joseph is the director of Metro Nashville Public Schools.

 The Tennessean