By Megan McCasland | Contributor
To get all the wiggles out, 40 first- through fifth-graders, chatting excitedly with the volunteers who picked them up, walk two blocks every day after school from Dean Highland Elementary School to Highland Baptist Church. Once there, they play on the playground, have snacks, go through a rotation between a Bible story, play games, receive tutoring and finish homework.
This program is called WiN, which stands for “Wisdom and iNstruction from the Lord,” and is a mentoring and tutoring program that happens every Monday through Friday after school for three hours in between when the students get released from school and when their parents get off from work.
Jamie Hipp, the Go pastor, or missions pastor, said WiN is a great opportunity that lead pastor John Durham began three years ago when he came to the church.
“It’s holistic in the sense of providing for a number of areas for those kids,” Hipp said, “but at the same time, it’s a time for us to be able to care for them and love on them as they’re from a variety of different backgrounds.”
Callie Anderson, a volunteer at WiN since September, said she loves being able to show Christ’s love to the children.
“Laying the foundation of faith early in these kids can absolutely change the trajectory of their lives,” Anderson said.
Another part of the WiN program that can help the children is through the program’s use of the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders as tribe leaders for the younger kids. There are six groups, or “tribes,” of first- through fifth-graders, and the tribe leaders are in charge of making sure the younger kids in their group are doing what they’re supposed to. Audrey Wauson, the director of WiN, said this was a way to keep the older kids participating in the program while teaching them important leadership skills.
“The program is free to [the third- through fifth-graders] as long as they participate as a leader, which means that they have to clean up, keep an eye on the little kids, help with the tutoring and take on all the responsibilities of a regular volunteer,” Wauson said. “They’re not old enough to be in charge, but … they do everything that they can do so that the volunteers can supervise and do the things that grown-ups know.”
Drew Humphrey, the college pastor at Highland Baptist Church, said putting the older kids into a position of leadership was beneficial because the older kids know what to expect within the program.
“It’s also a great way for them to have some ownership and leadership, and it helps them to grow up a little bit,” Humphrey said. “Honestly, a lot of the reasons why they’re in [the program] is because sometimes they come from families that don’t have a lot of structure and don’t have a lot of positive leadership opportunities for them to see or engage in themselves. It’s an opportunity for them to lead and grow as young, little, tiny leaders.”
LaGrange, Ky., sophomore Heidi Keck, a regular attendee at Highland Baptist Church, said she thinks the WiN program is great for the community and hopes it will continue to develop and grow.
“What the WiN program is doing is providing something that every family wants, which is more opportunities for their kids to get interaction and engagement,” Keck said. “The fact that Highland is willing to provide a safe place for kids to go during those couple of hours is something that’s good for the parents and the community to hear. It builds trust between the families and the church.”
Before the WiN program was launched, the relationship between Highland Baptist Church and the neighborhood was virtually non-existent, and where it did exist, it was not on the best terms. Humphrey said, as of a year ago, the neighborhood that the church sits in is “the poorest neighborhood in McLennan County.”
“I think that WiN was kind of the first move to build some trust in the community,” Humphrey said. “To be able to reach into the neighborhood and to open up our doors and go into the school and those things… we’re just scratching the surface.”
One thing church leadership encourages church members, regular attendees and college students to think about is volunteering with the WiN program.
“If you want to volunteer, there’s a variety of ways,” Humphrey said.
The first way is by volunteering at the program itself.
When WiN first started, it had 20 children with a lot of volunteers because the strong involvement when something is new dies down after it has been around for a few years, Wauson said.
Now, the program has 40 kids, but there are not enough volunteers to meet the desired number of one adult to every two or three students, which was a goal primarily for the tutoring section of the program. Wauson said she only has two or three volunteers on Wednesdays and Thursdays as opposed to six volunteers on Mondays and Fridays.
“Since it’s an official Highland ministry, one of the ways that they get new volunteers is through the new member class,” Humphrey said.
Other ways to recruit volunteers include advertisements during the main service on Sundays, links on the website and Wauson herself going to different Adult Bible Fellowship and Connection Group classes and talking about the program.
“Once you’re interested, typically you’ll end up talking to [Wauson] and then you do the background check and go through all those kinds of hoops, and then you’re assigned,” Humphrey said.
People typically sign up to volunteer with the program for one day out of the week, due to the time of day and time commitment required of it.
“As with any program, it is the volunteers that make the program work well,” Wauson said.
The second way to become involved with the program is by becoming a WiN Champion. A WiN Champion is someone who sponsors one of the students in the program by providing funds to take care of things that the child needs. Each student requires roughly $270 each school year to attend WiN.
“That helps pay for a lot of things that aren’t even related to WiN,” Humphrey said. “To go to school they have to wear uniforms, so [the money] pays for their uniforms, and it also helps with school supplies and any of the WiN fees [for snacks and games].”
Humphrey said he would like the college ministry to possibly sponsor a second child next year, along with the child they are currently championing.
“I and the college students sponsor a girl in the first or second grade,” Humphrey said. “We raised the money to sponsor her, prayed for her, and we get updates from time to time about her and her family and things like that.”
The WiN program, Anderson said, was a way for the church to tell the children and their families that “we hear you, we listen, we love you and we’re going to be here for you.”
“It’s been so great to see the church body at Highland give back to these kids [through championing a child] because they see the impact that this [program] can have,” Anderson said.
For more information about the program or how to become a volunteer or a WiN Champion, go to WiN’s webpage on the church’s website or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.