The Ellet church family began to seek other ways to connect and serve their young neighbors next door. Pastor Carey says that people realized, “We can be a community church [and] use our building and resources that way.”
About seven years ago, the Ellet congregation noticed that parents of Ritzman students didn’t have a place to park when they came to pick up the children. When the church offered the use of its parking lot, officials at the school cut away a section of the fence between the two properties, and the church put in steps and hand rails. Now parents can wait in the church parking lot. As an added benefit, members of the congregation distribute water in the warm months and hot chocolate when it’s cold.
Beckie Gurnish, Ellet church member and retired Spanish teacher from Akron Public Schools, explains other ways the church has served the school:
“We have been sending school supplies at the beginning of the school year for five or six years. We give the office the supplies and they distribute them as needed throughout the year. We also have been giving every child in the school a Christmas gift. It’s a bag filled with essentials like gloves, toothbrushes, toothpaste, a few fresh school supplies, a little candy, and some sort of toy.
“Over the years, we have had people come to the church as a result of any number of these activities.”
Gurnish says the church has also organized Easter and Halloween events for students, plus provided lunch and Christmas presents for the teachers.
This year a new event was added. On the afternoon of August 29, the church hosted “We Care Ritzman,” a back-to-school fair for students and their parents. The fair included such attractions as food, games, a “flush machine” (similar to a dunking machine), and an inflatable obstacle course. Three hairstylists cut 38 heads of hair, and about 75 family photos were taken. One man, a member of the Gideons, gave away 62 New Testaments.
The church provided free backpacks full of school supplies, and the county sheriff’s office arranged for “ident-a-kid” fingerprinting. People could also submit requests at a special prayer table.
One unique aspect of the event was a uniform exchange, since Ritzman students wear specified clothing. Families could bring outgrown polos, pants, etc. to swap for garments that fit. One mother says that her son wasn’t especially excited to go back to school this year. But when he got some “new” clothing at the swap, his outlook changed, and he looked forward to school.
Gurnish, who coordinated the event, worked with church member Vida Shaffer (her “right hand woman”) and committee chair people to organize the event. The chair people included two young people, Devan Keeling and Alec Carey, who came up with the idea of a Wii bowling tournament. Church volunteers ranged from third graders to senior citizens.
The idea for “We Care Ritzman” came when Gurnish visited the Winona Lake (Ind.) Grace Brethren Church (Bruce Barlow, pastor) in December, 2009.
“At that service, they did a slide show on their project, ‘We Care Warsaw.’” Gurnish saw elements of WLGBC’s Christmas community service day that could be adapted to her church’s connection with Ritzman.
The students and staff at Ritzman appreciate their friendship with the church family.
“Ellet Grace Brethren Church has gone above and beyond to assist our students and staff over the years,” says Principal Larry Bender. “They have donated school supplies, given Christmas presents to our students, developed an after school tutoring club…and have allowed our staff and parents to use their parking lot for safety.
“The congregation of the church has kept our staff and students in their prayers through tragic losses with students as well. At the beginning of each school year, there is always a message on the church marquee welcoming back our staff and students. We are truly blessed.”
The impact of the friendship between the church and the school continues to widen. After “We Care Ritzman,” one of Ritzman’s teachers wrote: “You were Jesus’ hands and feet, and everything you did—big or small—will bring God glory and enlarge the kingdom.”
And that’s the point of loving your neighbor.
Judy Daniels was the editor of Grace Magazine for 11 years. She and her husband, Denny, live in Winona Lake, Ind.
|Connecting People and Churches of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches||Wednesday, April 23 2014|
Wednesday, 03 November 2010 09:52
'Love Your Neighbor' Comes to Life in Akron
by Judy Daniels
The people of the Ellet Grace Brethren Church in Akron, Ohio, love their next-door neighbors. And there are more than 300 of those neighbors to love—most of them under the age of 10.
Published in November-December 2010