A practical way to love their neighbors

Published 8:07 pm Friday, August 21, 2020

United Methodist Church partners with school to help distance learners


For over five years now, United Methodist Church in Albert Lea has had a partnership with Southwest Middle School.

“Our philosophy is if you need anything, you let us know, and we’ll try to figure out the answer,” said the Rev. John Mitchem, who leads the church.

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In the past, there have been things like food packs or teacher appreciation that the church has helped with. This year, school staff expressed a need for a place where students without the internet could go on days they are in distance learning. The students are going in-person to school two days a week and then will be in distance learning three days a week.

The church offered to be that place where students can go on their alternate days and on Fridays.

“This is one of the practical ways we can love our neighbors,” Mitchem said. “In a physical way, we can take care of a need.”

He said parents were introduced to the idea at school orientation, and those who were interested in participating were given a form to fill out and sign. Andrea Plueddeman, director of family ministry at the church, said as of Friday morning, 23 children had signed up to participate, and there is room for at least 50 starting out.

While at the church, the children will be under the supervision of volunteers from the congregation who have undergone background checks and training. Mitchem said the volunteers will be available to help students with their school work and provide general care. The school will provide lunches for the students, or families can choose for their student to bring their own if they choose.

One of the classrooms is ready for students at United Methodist Church where the middle-schoolers can attend on their distance learning days. – Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

Plueddeman said there will also be water and lemonade daily and snacks donated by Frito Lay. POET has donated disinfectant for use.

Volunteers and students will go through daily COVID-19 screenings following recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including having their temperatures taken daily and being asked other COVID-19 related questions.

“I’m very excited,” Mitchem said, noting that the church is always encouraging its members to help its neighbors.

“Neighbors can be people we know, and neighbors can be people we don’t know,” he said.

Plueddeman said snack bags will also be sent home each day with the children. The contents were all donated from members of the congregation. Personal hygiene items, also donated from the congregation, will be available for use if needed in the restrooms.

Students can be brought to the church as early as 9 a.m. and can stay through about 1:30 p.m.

“We are ecstatic,” Plueddeman said. “We cannot wait. After being shut down since March, we are ready to open the doors of the church and have some fun, too.”

Though the church has started its services again on Sundays, it has not yet restarted up its youth programs or Sunday school.

She thanked the companies that have jumped on board in helping contribute to the program.

To sign up a middle-schooler, contact Plueddeman by phone at 920-912-8991 or by email at andrea@albertleachurch.org. She said parents should contact her before bringing their child to the church the first time so she can plan for volunteers and staffing.

While the program is primarily for middle-schoolers, they will open it up to other age groups as well for siblings of students if room allows.

The church thus far has two rooms set up for the students to use during the program with plans for more if needed. – Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune