contributed by Rev. Sam Meadows, Executive Director, Project Transformation Arkansas
A few weeks ago, someone asked me how the first summer of Project Transformation Arkansas was going and I replied, “It’s a mess, but it’s a beautiful mess.” If you’ve ever tried to start something that you weren’t quite sure what to expect, you’ll know this description well. Nothing this summer has gone to plan, but in the best of ways.
Project Transformation’s ministry in Arkansas is new, but it’s part of a network of chapters across the country seeking to transform communities by engaging children, churches, and college-aged young adults in purposeful relationships. What that looks like in Arkansas is that we have a team of young adults serving in two churches in Pine Bluff providing leadership for summer day camp programming. Monday through Thursday for eight weeks this summer children in the neighborhoods of St. Luke UMC and Lakeside UMC in Pine Bluff can come to camp to receive nutritious meals, mentorship from college students, and literacy support by reading one on one with volunteers. On Fridays, our focus shifts from the children to the young adults. They are visiting area nonprofits and ministries as they explore God’s call on their lives.
In the last five weeks, we’ve had 9 college students and 1 seminarian serve with Project Transformation. They’ve worked with over 50 children in two churches. Nearly 60 volunteers have visited to read one-on-one with kids from 8 different congregations like St. James Little Rock, St. James Pine Bluff, Pulaski Heights, Oak Forrest, Benton, and Highland Valley. We are quickly approaching 400 hours volunteers have given to the children of PT Arkansas.
When kids arrive to our program, they take a reading assessment which enables us to help them choose books on their level. We have worked with 5th graders reading at a kindergarten level and seen them blossom in receiving attention of volunteers. We have some stellar readers, too, who have surprised us with how many books they’ve read from our libraries. Our hope is that at the end of July, we’ll have over 90% of our participants maintaining or improving their reading levels.
Beyond reading, children have been engaging in social-emotional learning with the young adults. Learning about their feelings, celebrating differences, and building confidence.
The biggest learning of our summer is how much we need each other. Earlier this summer during worship, the young adults made a web of connection. They passed string back and forth as they stood in a circle to demonstrate how they were linked to each other. We talked about how much could be held in that web that was created that the connection between even a couple of them couldn’t hold. And we reminded each other how much we needed each person to be able to do the work we were invited into this summer.
I am so grateful to serve in a church that is connectional by nature. A church that creates these webs of interconnectedness knowing that when we work together we can do so much more than any of us could hope to accomplish on our own.
Hezekiah Walker’s song, I Need You To Survive, has become my anthem of the summer. The lyrics say,
“I need you, you need me
We’re all a part of God’s body
Stand with me, agree with me
We’re all a part of God’s body
It is His will that every need be supplied
You are important to me, I need you to survive
You are important to me, I need you to survive”
This summer would not have been possible without the young adults’ willingness to spend their summer in ministry with children. It wouldn’t have been possible without families trusting our churches to be safe spaces for their kids. We need each other.
If you would like to become a part of our beautiful, messy, interconnected web, please reach out to Rev. Sam Meadors: email@example.com. We are still in search of reading volunteers for the weeks of July 18 and July 25.