Local Rotarians help Bethel’s after-school program serve as ‘hands and feet of Christ’

Local Rotarians help Bethel’s after-school program serve as ‘hands and feet of Christ’

When Bethel University Associate Chaplain Garrett Burns came calling on the McKenzie Rotary Club last week, he was following a “calling” of his own. 
Burns, who was named Bethel’s Director of Community Engagement in August of 2018, says he was called by God to assist the community, local churches, and pastors in his new role. Now he stood before the Rotarians, requesting their support for a project he felt could impact young lives for years to come.

With budget in hand, Burns explained to the group that a 2011 community-needs assessment conducted by Director of Global Studies Stacie Freeman identified the lack of academic support for local at-risk students as the top issue needing support from the Community Engagement Team. With the assistance of nearly a dozen spirited Bethel students, Freeman and Burns developed an after-school program to guide local children in grades K through 8 toward future success. The group now gathers from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday afternoons in a conference room located within the McKenzie Housing Authority.   
“We know there’s a high correlation between poverty and low academic achievement,” Burns explained. “At Bethel University, we want to create future scholars and leaders -- and we believe it starts in the community.” 

Parents living in McKenzie’s public housing signed their children up for the after-school program on a first-come, first served basis. The program now has a waiting list – and as its popularity grows, so does the program’s “wish list”. The Community Engagement Program, Burns told the Rotarians, needs additional resources to better prepare the children for a brighter future.

Up to 30 kids fill the conference table, engaged in everything from homework, to music, to Bible study. With a 2:1 ratio of students to volunteers, each child gets the personal attention he or she deserves. Scholarship students from Bethel’s Servant Leaders and ROAR programs, along with students earning community-service hours, are assisted by Bethel University Education majors gaining valuable on-the-job training.

“Each volunteer brings a unique gift to be shared,” Associate Chaplain Burns said. “From a pastoral or Christian side, we believe in the value of thoughts and prayers – but we must also be the hands and feet of Christ. That’s the heart of servant-leadership.”  
One of those servant-leaders, 21-year-old Emily Taylor, a Bethel senior majoring in Human Services, said she looks to Jesus as the perfect example of servant-leadership. “We aren't able to fully be a servant leader without His help. As a vessel, God works through us to fully love, teach, and serve each child in the program,” she said. “I've come to realize that each child and tutor has impacted my life and taught me something significant. I will carry what I've gained with me to continue to serve others."

Burns can clearly see the impact of the fledgling program, as well as its current limitations, and he outlined both for the Rotary Club members on Tuesday.  “We need to improve communication between students’ homes, our program, and the school system -- and that takes technology,” he said. Then he listed the group’s most pressing needs: eight Chromebooks, organizational materials like shelving and tubs, and a smart TV to integrate virtual learning, for a total price tag of $2,500. 
    The Rotarians listened thoughtfully. Then they voted. And Burns left the meeting with a grant to cover every penny from the Moore Fund. The trust fund was established for the local Rotary Club to administer for those causes in the community that are worthy and effective for those in need.

“I’m grateful to the Rotary Club, which does so much for our community,” he said. “They realize we are empowering two generations of students: the younger ones in our care, and the older ones who have taken on roles as servant-leaders.” If every student-volunteer working in the after-school program could go on to administer a similar program elsewhere, Burns said, “its blessings will multiply.” 

It’s easy to see why Chaplain Burns believes the Community Engagement After-School Program is serving as the hands and feet of Christ. Each day, it changes lives on both sides of the conference table at the McKenzie Housing Authority. And by doing so, it’s making the world a better place – one young person at a time. 

To donate or get involved in the after-school program, email Associate Chaplain burnsg@bethelu.edu. To learn more about scholarship opportunities in the ROAR or Servant Leaders program, email Lara Roberts at robertsl@bethelu.edu