What started out as a $2,000 grant from the Desert Southwest Conference is generating new life in the community of Sahuarita, AZ. Santa Cruz Valley United Methodist Church’s Administrative Board voted to allocate the Ignite grant monies to create and sustain a relationship between the church and Sahuarita High School (SHS), which is located next to the church. In an effort to be a good neighbor, Pastor Angie McCarty asked school Superintendent Dr. Manny Valenzuela to identify the greatest need of the high school. He put Angie in contact with school librarian, Nancie Kondrat. Nancie is responsible for the “Do Something Club,” a student-led organization focused on community outreach. This connected passion for outreach has blossomed into helping not only the students at SHS, but also a variety of community organizations.
Since the relationship began two years ago, Santa Cruz Valley UMC has partnered with SHS on many efforts. In 2014 and 2015, the church provided Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to 20 SHS families in need. Next, the church community wondered how families who qualify for free/reduced breakfasts and lunches purchase extra food when children are home for two weeks on Christmas break. The church stepped into the gap and provided two weeks of food and church members generously provided gifts for each member of the family. Then, the church fully funded the first student leadership conference in May, 2015 at the high school, with 60 students participating.
Not solely concerned with their own needs, SHS and the church joined their efforts again to reach out to surrounding community organizations. Hundreds of children’s pajamas and children’s books were collected for the Angel Heart Pajama Project (http://angelheartpajamaproject.org) benefiting local foster children. Stockings were made for children who were in the hospital at Christmas time. Used jeans were donated towards “Jeans for Teens” (Photo courtesy of Sahuarita Sun). Prom dresses were offered to Cinderella’s Closet (http://cinderellasclosettucson.com). The church and school co-sponsored the first We Walk for Kindness 5K Walk/Run (Find out more). This fundraiser donated to two community food banks and Youth on Their Own. Plans are underway to increase attendance at this year’s walk, scheduled for April 30, 2016. Each of these donation efforts have strengthened the relationship between the church and the school, providing an example of what it means to be good neighbors to each other.
The church continues to be recognized in the Sahuarita Sun and the Green Valley News as word of this partnership spreads throughout the community. Santa Cruz Valley UMC has received the “We are SHS” award three times. Most recently, Pastor Angie McCarty received the “Friend of Sahuarita” award. While the award was received by Pastor McCarty it was certainly the result of the efforts of the entire church.
In the excitement surrounding this partnership, people have been eager to contribute financially. The account initially funded by the $2,000 grant from the Desert Southwest Annual Conference still maintains a balance of $1,900 and the church is eager to continue the expanding relationship with Sahuarita High School.
When we seek to be good neighbors, goodness prevails. When churches do not focus first on their own needs, life begins. When churches ask what needs exist in the community and respond to those needs, partnerships thrive. When we reach out to others, united in common purpose, the world can be changed one person at a time, one school at a time, one community at a time.