Starting with a question is key to Pioneer UMC’s support of students


By Rhonda Olson

Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all. – James 1:17

Our story begins with a late summer Zoom fellowship conversation, where the topic of online learning came up. People raised concerns about how difficult online education must be for teachers, students and families, which led to the question, is there something we at Pioneer United Methodist Church can do to help? Pastor Liv [Gibbons] invited anyone interested in exploring that question to let her know, and we would discuss the possibilities further.

That invitation led to a brainstorming session with our pastors via Zoom and a decision to renew our relationship with our neighborhood school, Sharpstein. We simply asked them the question: Is there anything our church can do to support your students, staff, or families as you meet the many challenges of online learning? 

After considering the question, Principal Maria expressed her gratitude for the offer of help by responding with an enthusiastic “YES!” Another Zoom meeting quickly followed. She explained that for safety reasons, volunteers could not interact directly with online learners. However, one of their greatest needs was furniture for studying and headsets with microphones for families with no place for their children to “do” school at home. Desks? Chairs? Headphones? That was NOT what we expected to hear, but it made perfect sense! 

Since the beginning of the school year, the school had been getting phone calls from families whose students struggled to focus on their learning when their Zoom class on their computer was just inches away from their sibling’s Zoom class. Some families had children learning on the floor because they didn’t have a table or chair for them to use. Along with normal family activities that can be distracting, one family had FOUR children in four different grades learning side-by-side — and that headsets for each child would make a huge difference!

Before the day was over, Principal Maria introduced us to their Intervention Specialist, Yara, who immediately contacted us. She had a backlog of requests from families for several desks, chairs, headsets and desk lamps, and since the school district was unable to provide those, was that something our church could help supply?

“We will do the best we can,” we told her. It was time to pray and get the word out to our church family!

The sequence of events that took place during the following week was a fantastic example of how God provides all good gifts from above! Yara shared a “how to build an affordable desk” video — and spent her weekend making one herself, which inspired our own Joe Fillman to build three more! Pioneer folks were calling and offering desks and lamps they were willing to donate. Headsets and more lights were purchased. And while pricing out more desk materials, one committee member inquired at Home Depot to see if they might like to partner with us, which led to $100 of store coupons used to purchase five more folding chairs! 

Only a week after our first contact with Sharpstein staff, the delivery of the desired number of desks, chairs, headsets, lamps, etc., was met with great joy by Maria, Yara and their staff!  Yara immediately began delivering the furniture, lamps and headsets and shared a heartwarming story of a 5th-grade girl who hugged her desk when it arrived! Families were so grateful!

And, while the students’ needs were being met, the desire to encourage and support Sharpstein staff was met with great enthusiasm as well! A team of Pioneer members quickly formed and began providing unexpected treats for the staff — a box of apples, pastries, a bowl of candies — all an expression of God’s love from Pioneer. Plans are already in place to extend this appreciation throughout the entire school year!

In the days following the first delivery of furniture, requests continued and God continued to provide from above. A surprise phone call from Home Depot offering surplus furniture from their remodeled break room—two more desks and eight chairs! And then, Hope House founder Karen, offering two more surplus desks! Yara assures us that every desk has found a home! 

What has the impact of this outreach been? In a recent conversation with Yara, she shared that a 4th-grade teacher reported an amazing turn around for a student who now had a desk and study space. Another family said how nice it was for their student to have a desk in a quiet bedroom, where it was far easier to focus than their kitchen table. All those impacted have been so grateful! 

So how many “good gifts from above” did you note? One of those good gifts is a renewed relationship with our Sharpstein friends! We continue to get periodic requests from Yara, and we will continue to praise God for providing and showing us the way. Let’s keep praying for all the students, staff and families in our valley and beyond during this challenging time. And let’s especially pray for those students who are NOT logging in every day to learn…may they find their way back.

We are blessed to be a blessing to others. The Sharpstein outreach is an example of how Pioneer continues to be a church on the Move — with God, with Justice and with Love. We give thanks!

Rhonda Olson shared a version of this testimony with members of Pioneer United Methodist Church in Walla Walla, Washington on Sunday, November 22nd, 2020.

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