JOPLIN – Church and public schools don’t mix? Don’t tell that to Joplin Public Schools.
Churches have been partnering with students and schools with dramatic results since 2010. The program is called Bright Futures and its simple mission is to connect the community to its schools. Local churches of all faiths are just one aspect of Bright Futures, which also invites businesses, parents, and social services to benefit the local schools.
“It’s been a very positive inroad for churches to get into the schools,” said Steve Patterson, director of missions for Spring River Association. He is also chairman of the board and president of Bright Futures USA, the parent corporation that supports the program in affiliate communities across the country.
Though Bright Futures began with a relatively small focus, zeroing in on Joplin and its graduate rate, its openness to the church and the subsequent success is helping spread the program to surrounding districts, states and the rest of the country.
“As other communities saw what was happening, they began asking our superintendent and it just kept growing from there,” Patterson said.
The idea is to meet students’ needs before they come to the classroom, so they can focus on academics. Bright Futures meets material and physical needs, but also matches mentors with students and brings in “lunch pals” to spend 20 minutes a week with student at lunch time. In Joplin, physical needs have ranged from a pair of shoes to beds to a hot water heater.
“They had 15 lunch buddies before we were asked to bring in the churches, and we we joined in it went to 150,” Patterson said. “They had nine [mentors] for 7,000 students and it went to 90.”
Bright Futures posts the needs on Facebook and gets responses almost immediately.
“Our goal is to see every need met within 24 hours,” Patterson said. “Thus far, we’ve been able to do that in all but one case where they needed a Mandarin Chinese interpreter and that took us a few weeks. Our quickest time to meet a need was 11 seconds, but it usually takes two or three hours.
Though it’s far from a direct evangelistic outreach, the relationships built naturally led to conversations of the gospel.
“The churches are able to come at the request of schools and be a partner for whatever the school needs,” Patterson said. “They can’t do direct evangelism, but they can build relationships that will be fruitful later on. What we’ve seen in 40 affiliate communities in seven states is that the greatest number of volunteers comes from the churches. We won’t let a community become a Bright Futures community without that faith-based support.
“It’s the perfect opportunity to get out of the pews and into the community,” he said. “It’s a very non-threatening, easy thing to do. Even the most timid person in your church can go and be a part of this. As they do, they build relationships that later can lead to a bridge to the gospel.
For more information, go to brightfuturesusa.org.