The last several months I've been in awe of all that God has done over the last few years; the seed he planted, the doors he opened, the path he laid and the lives He has changed and all He continues to do.
As I reflect on how Positively Impacting Communities, Inc. (PIC) started, how it’s grown,
I find myself wanting to proclaim His goodness from the mountaintops and tell how he's using this mission to touch others. I’m sorry for a lengthy post, there’s just such good news to share!
Several years ago, as I finally healed from an abusive high school relationship, God placed on my heart a call to volunteer in the schools with youth. I felt a strong pull to follow, but didn’t know how I would get the time away from work to spend in the schools or what we would do. So I started to earnestly pray; asking Him to show me the way.
In 2015 LLS reorganized and my new boss approached me, asking if I would be interested in a new position that would include working from home. This change would put me closer to the schools making it easier to volunteer! At the same time my job was transitioning, God led me to talk to our church’s youth director. When I walked into his office, he had materials about a school club based on core values (really fruits of the Spirit). It was the framework for the school club. I felt like I’d been handed a gift! My job transitioned again a year later and both bosses have supported the time I volunteer in the schools.
We started the first Positively Influencing Everyone (PIE) Club in Jan. 2016 with 15 7th and 8th graders. We met weekly during their lunch hour for the spring semester; helping them grapple with topics such as honesty, kindness, helping others, knowing your values and how to stay true to them. The teacher did an amazing job of inviting students from different social groups and activities, kids that were on the right path as well as kids that were trying to figure it out. It was a diverse group that learned about each other; found pre-conceived perceptions to be inaccurate and grew to understand and support each other better. It was amazing to witness.
The next year, since the original members promoted to the high school we wanted to move the club to the high school with them. As only He can, God opened the door in an AMAZING way. First he opened the door to start a club on the 5th & 6th grade campus. (The goal is to eventually have a club from at least 4th grade through graduation). The second thing he did was place a speaker on my heart. John Quniones, from the show What Would You Do?, was speaking at my college alma mater 30 mins. away. Feeling prompted, at 6:00 a.m. one Sunday, I Googled for his email address, found his personal work email and sent him an email with a little information about the club and asking if he would consider speaking for free. Within 30 minutes he responded – saying yes! The high school was thrilled when they learned John Quinones was coming to speak at their school for free. God is Amazing!
Rather than meeting before or after school as most clubs do, PIE is allowed to meet during lunch to avoid conflicts with sports, extracurricular activities held before/after school or time to get to/from school. Students take time away from eating lunch with friends once a week to meet in a classroom with people they may not otherwise hang out with. That year we had a few bumps as we found our way, discovering the high school students lost interest when we were just talking about positive character traits – we needed to find a way to put them into action.
The following year, God showed us the way and opened three more amazing doors:
We usually begin each meeting watching a video of the current topic (i.e. for honesty a group of boys accidentally walked into a business after it was closed for the day. Not realizing this, they picked out the item they needed, when they couldn’t find store personnel to pay, they left the money on the counter and exited the store). On the 5th & 6th grade campus, the administration approved sharing these videos in every classroom on Fridays. PIE Club watches the videos and discusses them on Thursdays. Then on Friday, after the school watches the video, the PIE members lead the discussion in each of their classrooms. I’m still in awe this is being shared throughout the school.
Next, the high school gave us permission to add Prayer Partners. Students can opt to request a Prayer Partner for the year and an adult from a local church writes them a letter that they receive during PIE meetings each week. 24 of 27 students requested a Prayer Partner. (This year PIE has almost doubled in size 42 of 46 students have requested Prayer Partners). A few students joined the club during the year; after witnessing others receive the cards and their reactions, the new members often requested to be paired with a Prayer Partner too. The students look for the notes as soon as they arrive in the classroom. The Partners have become a true source of support for the students. God is in the public school.
And third, with the realization that the high school students needed a way to put positive character traits into action, God led me to share videos portraying what hunger in America looks like. The series showed average American households, living on their own or with relatives, struggling to make ends meet and relying on food pantries so they could feed their children. The teens learned students just like them face going to bed hungry, give up food so a younger sibling can eat; that feeling hungry makes it hard to concentrate and they often fight feelings of anger or despair. We discussed the families in the district (there are over 4,000) that receive free and reduced meals during the school year, and learned how they often struggle on weekends, during school breaks and summer.
To help some of the families in need, in the Fall of 2016 we applied for a grant from the Spur’s Foundation Team Up Challenge program. Over 100 organizations applied and PIE was one the 34 clubs selected. This money was used to provide packages of fresh fruit, vegetables and chicken to families in need throughout the community as both the Christmas and summer breaks began. God is so good!
Also that fall, we expanded our programs by adding a Reading Mentorship program between an Intermediate and Elementary school campus. Once a week 12 5th and 6th graders met after school and walked two blocks to the elementary school where they spent 45 minutes reading with a Kinder – 2nd grade student. Many of the older students shared they joined because either someone had helped them read and they wanted to do that for someone else or that they had been made fun for being a struggling reader and wanted to help someone else so they wouldn’t be in a similar situation. I was so touched by their reasons for joining and grateful for the opportunity to fill a need – both for themselves and the child they were helping. Bonds started to form as early as the first week when hugs were given as the session ended. It was amazing to witness the growth that occurred in both sets of students from celebrations when a new accomplishment was reached to older students developing new strategies to help the younger students.
In the spring God orchestrated a community sex trafficking presentation at the high school that the principal warmly supported by sending a personal letter to all parents. Hearts were opened to the suffering abducted teens endure while also opening eyes to the risks children face in every city in America and around the world. Afterwards, when a teen commented she didn’t realize it was a warning sign if she suddenly dropped a good group of friends for a new set, I knew the presentation made a difference.
Behind the scenes, we formed a Board and filed to become a non-profit organization. I’m in awe of how the board was formed and continues to grow. As we have needs, I pray to God to direct me to the right person. Then He lays a name on my heart and they say an enthusiastic Yes. When I first felt a name I wondered if I was really hearing Him. I approached hesitantly at first. Each time He leads me to a new person, they have exactly the background and area of expertise we need – even if I’m not aware of the need yet. One has experience in applying for grants, another is a marketing professional who designed and built our website, another is the Director of Children’s ministry at our church. One I knew only from greeting in church, after two weeks of hearing “Ask her”, I listened and she came on board as we were selecting our insurance carrier and had the knowledge in the area we needed. The next one leads my Sunday school class. When God prompted, I asked her to serve as the Board Secretary. It turns out she has previously served as Secretary on other boards! I didn’t know it when I approached her, but the last one teaches in one of the schools we serve and has valuable insights. Not only have I learned to trust and follow the prompt, now I even look forward to what is about to be revealed with excited anticipation.
In May, PIC was officially deemed tax-exempt by the IRS – paving the way to be eligible for additional grants and tax-deductible donations to make more programs possible. The application process can require multiple revisions and can take up to one year – yet PIC was granted status in just 50 days and without any revisions! Allelujah! Praise God!!
Twice we’ve reached out for help with expenses. First to help cover the $850 filing fee to become a non-profit and then $1,000 to cover immediate expenses such as general liability insurance and supplies for the Summer Reading Buddy program. Both times friends and family gave generously and we received exactly the amount needed. We are so thankful for your generosity! 😊
This spring many things fell into place to start a Summer Reading Buddy program. We identified a church next door to one of the three Title 1 schools (over 40% of the families are in significant financial need) in the SCUCISD. The school and church are in the middle of a neighborhood and our hope was it would be easily accessible in case the children being served were walking. The church had been supporting 86 students from the school with a weekly backpack ministry during the school year and had just been asked to continue it during the summer. The church agreed to partner with us – providing lunch and filling backpacks each week. This was a Godsend! (Since we had just received tax-exempt status, there wasn’t time to request and receive grants for funding). PIC provided teen volunteers to mentor students in reading skills, attend Chapel Time together and play games before lunch. Four adults volunteered too – all retired teachers with background in reading recovery. Attendance of both the youth we were serving and the volunteers that supported them, fluctuated each week. At first I worried but we always had exactly the right amount to pair together. I learned to stop worrying and rest in the knowledge that God is in control and works all things for good.
Fridays quickly became my favorite day of the week as I watched the children come in with happy smiles, turn in their backpacks and head to the Reading Room to find their partner where warm hugs were given. The retired teachers identified the kids in greatest need and worked with them, building bonds and strengthening reading skills. As much as we helped with reading, I know the greatest benefit for each person served was knowing someone was there, waiting to spend time with them each week.
During the previous school year, the 6th graders frequently asked if there would be a PIE Club as they promoted to the junior high. I said yes while also whispering a prayer, asking God to show me how. The teacher and principal I worked with the first year are no longer at that school. I knew I needed a teacher to sponsor the club, but didn’t know any to ask. I have to laugh at myself for trying to figure things out in my humanness and remember when we knock, God will open the door (Matthew 7:7-8). My son played basketball with the YMCA this summer and his coach turned out to be a teacher at the junior high campus. After the season ended, I asked her if she would help open the door with the principal and would consider sponsoring the club. She enthusiastically said Yes to both! Within 24 hours PIE was approved and we had a sponsor! Again I witness God at work, weaving all things together for His purpose.
This fall, I had goosebumps as PIE Club continued on three campuses, serving 5th – 12th graders and the realization that our first group of 5th graders would be able to continue all the way through graduation. The counselor did an amazing job when she selected this group. They’re all in different activities, with different sets of friends, without meeting in PIE they would probably just be classmates or acquaintances. As they started their third year together, they’re like a little family; greeting each other warmly, sharing experiences about their first two weeks of junior high, reminding each other of the next PIE meeting and supporting one another during conversations. I have such joy watching them together.
The high school club again submitted a grant application to the Spurs Team Up Challenge program. A few weeks ago we learned PIE wasn’t selected this year. But within 48 hours God had an even better plan in place. We’re working with the SA Food Bank to become a Partner Agency. In Dec. they’re going to provide their Mobile Food Pantry with 11 pallets of food for 200 families – free of charge! My heart overflows as I see this great need being filled in amazing ways.
As the school year started, I also felt the call to be a Christian club not just in what we do or talking about positive character traits (instead of calling them Fruits of the Spirit), but in our words and teachings as well. I brought this up with the high school and their response was “Well aren’t you a Christian club?” During the first meeting, I mentioned this to the students. Not all students in the club are Christian but none had questions or even batted an eye. I continue to share my faith where I can, but was told prayer must be student initiated.
As PIE started, and the desire to become a non-profit grew in my heart, I often believed I needed to quit my job to focus on this mission. God graciously opened the door to my job with LLS almost 14 years ago when I was offered a part-time position that was to last 6 weeks. What I've learned is God uses it to teach me the skills I need for PIC/PIE, I’m in awe of all the skills that He has taught me and continues to teach me; from leading boards to seeking sponsorships, he has been equipping me. Through His word and Bible study He also taught me that as Paul started His ministry he made tents during the day and preached at night. I know both places are where I'm meant to be.
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
1 Thessalonians 2:9
He has taught me to use my time wisely, not be idle and reminded me that our strength does not come from us but from Him.
I can do all things through Christ[a] who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:29-31
I hope you will keep me this ministry in your prayers – to practice self-control, pick up my cross daily follow Jesus (Luke 9:23), listen to the Holy Spirit and boldly proclaim his name and goodness.
I sit here in awe, amazed and grateful. Five years ago, in the ashes of my brokenness, God planted a seed in my heart to work with youth, helping them to avoid the pitfalls many succumb or fall into. I had no idea what it looked like or where to start. But He did. He laid the path and asks me to follow one step at a time. Today we have a club on three campuses focused on helping others; students in need receiving healthy food as school breaks begin; nutritious meals during the summer; teens helping children build reading and comprehension skills. God is in the public schools and he’s changing lives, including mine.
I’m honored to serve on the board with a great group of amazing and dedicated ladies.
Thankful to all our Prayer Partners for their continued support (many are on their third year) as they faithfully write encouraging notes to a student(s) every week throughout the school year.
And I’m so grateful to each of you for your prayers, words of support and encouragement, donations and/or time spent volunteering with us. God is knitting each of us together to share His love with others and I’m so grateful to be on this journey with you for His purpose.
To God be the Glory!