Font Size » + | -By Dyrie Francis In September 2016 our church, Living Word Open Bible Church in Cooper City, Florida, adopted Fairway Elementary School, the continuation of an adventure we would never have imagined. The idea for this journey took root when one of our members who is a teacher casually mentioned that approximately 3,000 children in our county were homeless; many had no food while away from school on the weekend. The statistics alarmed us, yet the pressing needs of ministry delayed immediate action. However, our loving Father, who cares for the poor and the orphans, did not forget. About a year later, Shari Francis, a young professional who visits our church, asked to meet with me. She wondered if our church would (guess what?) get involved in a ministry to fill book bags with food and deliver them to the schools on Fridays so needy children could have food over the weekend. It was evident God was in this. We discovered Shari served on the Board of Broward Education Foundation, a charitable organization with a mission to “energize and engage the extended community to transform the lives of Broward County Public School students through support of quality education.” The words “engage” and “transform” piqued our interest even more because they lined up with our Christian responsibility to the community. Shari eagerly introduced us to Tom Severino, President of Broward Education Foundation. God has a tremendous sense of humor. Sometimes we have tiny ideas that seem enormous to us. But with a mighty, big God, who rules the universe and owns everything and everyone in it (Psalm 24:1, 50:10-12), we can achieve a great deal more than imagined. Tom Severino challenged us to begin having “Turning Outward Conversations.” Turning Outward is a process developed by The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation that entails taking steps to better understand communities and changing processes and thinking to make conversations more community-focused. Living Word had reached out to our community before without success but we were willing to try again. The community where we are located is affluent and seemingly inaccessible. The process extended over seven months from our first meeting with Shari to our actually adopting Fairway Elementary School. We had no idea the Turning Outward Conversations would be so intense, yet productive. Here are some important steps we took in the process: Identifying and training Conversation leaders to conduct the Turning Outward Community Conversations. Five Living Word leaders were trained to fulfill that role. Convening the Turning Outward Community Conversations. We met with The Broward Education Foundation Personnel to compile a list of potential participants (community influencers) to recruit and divided the task of inviting them to the first Turning Outward Community Conversation. One month later, 31 community leaders and influencers in education, social services, and businesses attended the first Conversation. Follow-up meetings were convened monthly. Making connection with Fairway Elementary School. Even though the school had many needs, they seemed skeptical at first about our church’s offer to adopt their school. We held joint meetings at the school with the principal, designated school administrative staff, school board personnel, and representatives from our church. Many of our congregants were already familiar with the school. Some of their children had graduated from that school. This contributed to forging the bond with Fairway Elementary. Recruiting volunteers for Fairway Elementary. From the outset church representatives across the age span participated in the Turning Outward Conversations. At a specially planned midweek service, we invited school board representatives to inform the congregation about the critical need for volunteers, the value they bring to the schools, and the requirements for volunteers. Some of our members already volunteered in other county schools and helped to ignite the passion of others. We learned that Fairway’s most urgent need was for reading tutors. Additional needs were for clerical help, assistance at school events (such as welcoming children and families during the first week of the school year and open house), and funding for teacher/staff appreciation and holiday celebrations. The flame was ignited and specific training prepared 14 new reading tutors for Fairway Elementary. Another group of volunteers now perform clerical functions in the school office. We knew the connection was well established when the principal asked the church to assist with landscaping. Living Word purchased the needed sod and arranged for its installation. It is now standard for us to get a request for assistance to cover the cost of teachers/staff appreciation and holiday parties. Living Word also provides prayer support. It is not uncommon for the principal to ask for prayer for the school. Shortly after our partnership began, an eight-year-old student suddenly died. The principal called on the church. We contributed to the funeral expenses and offered spiritual counseling to the school and the family. Our prayer is that the seeds of kindness will soften hearts to receive the Gospel of Jesus. We have come a long way since this idea was conceived. At our church’s 25th Anniversary service, the principal and vice-principal of Fairway Elementary presented our church with a plaque of appreciation. Although our school family appreciates our relationship and contribution, we deem it a great privilege to enter this open door of ministry. Comments from the school remind us that Jesus has called the Church to be light and salt in the world (Matthew 5:13-16). May we shine brightly and make a difference in our neck of the woods. For more details on Living Word’s experience of adopting a school, please email Dyrie at firstname.lastname@example.org.