In a small building tucked away on a side street in Forrest City, Ark., Kynette United Methodist Church gathers each week. With an average worship attendance of 15 to 20 people, it certainly fits the definition of “small church.”
But its size won’t stop it from reaching out into its mission field in a new way this year: through Key’s Afterschool Homework Club, housed in a newly-remodeled room of the building.
Marvellia Key and her husband, the Rev. Kennis Key, who serves as part-time local pastor of the congregation, began last summer to dream of new ways the church could have an impact on the surrounding community. Their time at the 2012 Arkansas Annual Conference served as a catalyst.
“My husband and I were thinking the word ‘mission’ came up so much [at Annual Conference] . . . being in mission with the community,” said Ms. Key, who once pursued training toward becoming a United Methodist deaconess. “We sat there and we began to think. . . . We know we do things for the community, and in the community, and what have you. But it came to me to say, ‘Why don’t we begin something to really get out there to help the children . . . and in turn, help the parents?’”
A retired teacher with 31 years of experience in the classroom, Ms. Key knew that local elementary schools had students in need of extra help with their schoolwork, and that such help can make a long-term difference in a child’s life. She also knew that the church building would need a lot of work to be certified as a child care center, a necessary step for any after-school program. She began her research by calling the Department of Human Services (DHS)—and learned that the pre-training session for certification would begin the following Wednesday.
It was the beginning of things falling into place to help make Key’s Afterschool Homework Club a reality.
Connections and help
The Keys both attended the initial training session with DHS, and a helpful connection emerged: A fellow student in the session learned about their goals and offered free use of a van to pick up the children from school. They hope to eventually purchase the van.
DHS outlined various zoning concerns and building requirements. Ms. Key went to the local fire department for help assessing changes needed for the building to meet the standards. “They were very helpful in looking at the building,” she said.
Some of the required changes would take significant work. The Keys shared their vision with the Rev. Kirk Doering, the circuit elder for Kynette UMC. He, in turn, shared with the Rev. Susan Ledbetter, superintendent of the Southeast District; and she and the Rev. Phil Hathcock, director of connectional ministries for the conference, helped Kynette UMC secure $1,500 in grant funding from the Arkansas Conference Global Ministrie, and New and Refocusing Ministries.
Ms. Key also contacted Dr. Lyle Heim from Lakewood UMC in North Little Rock, who had taken an interest in the Kynette congregation in years past. He shared the need for volunteer labor with others in his congregation, which is how Hank Godwin learned of the need.
Mr. Godwin, freshly retired and with many summers of experience in the leadership of Ozark Mission Project, had been seeking a way to use his newfound free time in service to Christ. Kynette UMC’s need for a mission-driven renovation provided an answer.
Kynette UMC became Mr. Godwin’s temporary home; he worked, ate and slept there for several days. Along with Mr. Godwin’s labor and that of several others, Lakewood UMC provided materials that cost about $1,500. “They have bent over backwards,” Ms. Key said.
Mr. Godwin gave thanks that fellow Lakewood UMC members Patt Greenlee and Rex and Sue Winkley made several trips to Forrest City to help. “I hate to paint, and they were very willing,” he said.
“Everything just fell into place. There were no gaps,” Ms. Key added, noting that Kynette has received additional help from other congregations, including First UMC in Conway and Pulaski Heights UMC in Little Rock.
Looking toward launch
Key’s Afterschool Homework Club will begin by serving about a dozen students from two local elementary schools, between ages 5 and 12, who are performing below their grade level. DHS keeps a waiting list of such students who need extra help. Ms. Key hopes to be able to accommodate some students who are not referred by DHS, as well. “We want it to be open to everyone,” she said.
The program, which will operate Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m., will aim to build a foundation of learning to not only raise students’ test scores, but also help shape them into the leaders of tomorrow by stimulating curiosity, enhancing critical thinking and eventually going beyond academics by incorporating ballet and music into the curriculum.
Key’s Afterschool Homework Club will hold an open house and dedication on Jan. 20. The program is scheduled to launch on Feb. 1.
“We’re so excited, we don’t know what to do,” Ms. Key said. “This is God-given. . . . It’s built in the light of Christ.”
Ms. Forbus is editor of the Arkansas United Methodist, the newspaper of the Arkansas Conference, where this article first appeared. Joe Roitz, director of communication ministries for Lakewood UMC in North Little Rock, contributed to this report.