K-5th Summer Reading Program impacts more than just the kids.

This summer four college students chose to step out of their comfort zones and spend their time off from school building relationships with children and adults of different cultures and backgrounds. Madison Deves, Megan Tilley, Chloe Colbert, and Taylor Maxwell have worked with Faith that Works’ outreaches the past two months as summer program staff. This is their last week serving, but they’ve made an impact in their time with us and have laid groundwork for future programs. These young women have grown as they’ve engaged in cross-cultural work in the Chesterfield Mobile Home Park, a predominately Hispanic community. They provided reading support and led field trips for children in the K-5th Summer Reading Program and learned about the challenges immigrant communities face through personal conversations and research. Growing in confidence Over the summer they saw the kids in the reading program grow in confidence and excitement about reading. Megan, who worked with the 4th-5th graders in the program, says she saw “huge improvement in the children over the summer.” “Each week we read 2-3 chapters in the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The first couple weeks the kids maybe read a paragraph each time. By the last day of the reading program, each child was reading multiple pages at a time. It was really awesome to see how much more comfortable they felt with reading out loud with their friends.” Megan says she also saw the children, especially one young girl, become more comfortable interacting with program leaders and volunteers. “Each Friday we went on a field trip, and one little girl, Allison, was there every time. Allison is five years old and speaks very little English. She was extremely quiet in the beginning of summer, and the only time I heard her speak was whispering responses into her sister's ear. The second to last Friday of the summer, I walked into the tutoring trailer and she yelled, "MEGAN!" This surprised me so much and really made me so happy. Through the summer Allison learned to come out of her shell and have conversations with me and the other volunteers.” Taylor also saw comfort levels grow this summer as she tried out her developing Spanish skills to connect with another young child not yet fluent in English. “The most memorable part of my summer was working with a child named Daniel,” says Taylor. “He was one of our field trip participants and is going to be in kindergarten this coming fall. He only speaks Spanish, with very little English comprehension. I am studying Spanish in school, but studying a language and communicating in it are two very different things. At first it was hard to talk to Daniel, but as the summer went on I saw his trust in me grow. I think it was so meaningful to build a friendship with him because I saw how, despite my broken Spanish, the fact that I was trying to reach him where he was meant so much. I think it’s a very applicable lesson to life - we’re never going to be fully equipped to be everything someone needs, but simple steps in reaching out can get us further than we could imagine.”

Field trip to the St. Louis Science Center

Embracing the uncomfortable Like Taylor, Megan also learned the value of stepping outside of her comfort zone to meet others where they are and learn about their lives and experiences. “This whole experience was a new one for me,” says Megan. “One challenge I had was knowing how to communicate with the children and the parents who did not speak English. Because I had never been in a situation like that, I felt very uncomfortable. It creates a barrier between people when they can't communicate in the same language,” says Megan. Despite the initial discomfort, Megan realized the language difference didn’t have to keep her from engaging. “I had to learn to just listen and show that I was present in the conversation, even if I couldn't exactly put my words into it. It means a lot to people if you can show you care, even if it is not verbally.” Even impacting just one For Madison, the summer helped her understand that making an impact in the life of another person often takes a long time, but investing in the lives of other people is worth the time and effort. “Something important that I have learned this summer is that sometimes we don't always get to see the impact of our work and service, so it may seem like we have had no effect on anyone. But we can't let that discourage us. Even if we only impact one person's life in a small way, than that should be considered a win. For me, seeing how excited the children were to go on field trips each week was only a small glimpse of the many ways that Faith that Works has impacted the lives of residents in this community," says Madison.

Madison with girls in the Summer Reading Program

"One of the most memorable moments from the summer came from when a Faith that Works supporter hosted a pool party one Friday for the children in the mobile home park. Marlen, one of the young girls in the summer program, told us that Friday morning on our field trip that she couldn't sleep because she was so excited for the field trip. Then while we were swimming at the pool party later, she looked at us and said, ‘I'm just so happy right now and I don't know why!’” We’re thankful for the summer staff, volunteers, and donors who helped moments and memories like these happen this summer. Because of you, the children and adults we work with in our outreaches are able to experience the love and compassion of Christ in practical ways and through meaningful relationships. Seeing fruit and serving others While Madison, Megan, and Taylor worked closely with the Summer Reading Program, Chloe focused primarily on building partnerships with organizations serving immigrants in the St. Louis area. She also created a Spanish-language resource guide that lists services, events, and contacts relevant to the families we work with in the Chesterfield Mobile Home Park. After weeks of working on the resource guide and meeting with local organizations to learn about their services and programs, Chloe was excited to see the guide carry out its purpose one night during an ESL class at the Faith that Works trailer. “I witnessed one of the adult students receive the Spanish version of the Medicaid form that I had printed out for her,” says Chloe. She was happy to see the woman read the Spanish-language form and understand its content. “Seeing the fruits of long weeks of research proved to be successful in that one moment,” says Chloe. Reflecting on her summer with Faith that Works, Chloe shares her belief that serving others connects us to them in valuable ways. She sees serving others as a duty to one’s fellow man that can spark compassion and can even be empowering to the one served. “Service not only empowers another, but it empowers the individual’s capacity for compassion and understanding from diverse experiences. Many communities do want to be engaged, but it takes one individual with a listening ear, willing to learn something new and go out of their comfort zone.” We’re thankful for the summer staff, volunteers, and donors who stepped out of their comfort zones (in many forms) in order to serve and empower others. Because of you, the children and adults we work with in our outreaches are able to experience the love and compassion of Christ in practical ways and through meaningful relationships.
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