For years, congregations throughout the Portland-Metro area have served their neighborhood schools in a variety of ways, making an impact in the lives of students and staff. The School Partnership Network, an outgrowth of the Luis Palau Association’s “Season of Service,” was created to organize the efforts of local churches in order to serve entire districts and better facilitate service efforts.
In 2008, Southlake Foursquare Church in West Linn, Oregon joined a one-day school clean-up event at Roosevelt High School in North Portland. That initial effort awakened the congregation to a long list of unmet needs at the school, including poverty and homelessness among the student body. As a result, the church looked for more ways to get involved, and their efforts grew into an ongoing relationship with the administrators and staff at Roosevelt.
The Southlake congregation has developed a food and clothing closet, a “Summer Nights” community activity program, and ongoing building improvement programs. At football games, church members can be found side by side with students in the stands, sporting Roosevelt sweatshirts donated by a Southlake member as a fundraiser for the school. Though 25 miles separated their campuses, a true “partnership” developed between an inner-city public high school and an affluent, suburban church.
In January of 2012, Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith learned of this unique relationship between Roosevelt and Southlake. She asked Kevin Palau, President of the Luis Palau Association, what it would take to find “church partners” for each of the schools in her district. Kevin approached a major Christian foundation to see if they would be interested in helping to fund an organized effort. With the foundation’s acceptance of the project, funds were made available in February 2012 and a part time staff was hired to initiate the effort in March 2012. The name “School Partnership Network” was chosen later than month.
What started as a simple inquiry from a school Superintendent has blossomed into a full- scale, united effort to help connect local churches with their area schools throughout the greater metro area. As other school districts and churches have heard about the initiative, they have been quick to jump onboard. A database listing of involved and interested churches is continually growing, meetings with pastors and other community leaders are being held on a regular basis, tools and resources continue to be developed to cultivate these growing relationships, and plans are being made to expand this network ministry throughout the region in 2013 and beyond.
No one church can do everything to meet the many unmet needs of their local schools. The reality is that churches vary in size, resources, and levels of interest in serving the community in this particular way. However, since any size of church can serve a local school in a variety of ways, the idea of developing at least one “church partner” for each school in the metro area is an attainable, measurable goal.
There are 29 school districts in the greater Portland/Vancouver metro area. In these districts, there are more than 400 schools. Our primary task is to help locate or develop a church partner for each of these schools, cultivate those relationships by providing them with ideas and resources, and communicate the stories of what is accomplished through these mutually beneficial relationships.
Our long range vision is to see every school in greater metro area in an ongoing, meaningful relationship with one or more of the churches in their community. The ongoing relationships between the pastors, staff and volunteers of the local church with the administrators, teachers, and families of a local school can create a healthy synergy that will truly benefit both the church and the school. Schools will have a ready resource to contact to meet specific needs, and churches will have a built-in opportunity to provide genuine Christian service to their community.
CALL TO ACTION
There are over 1200 Christian churches in the greater metro area. Most of these churches are already involved in numerous worthwhile ministries at home and abroad. Yet, serving in public schools may be an opportunity that many of these churches have not yet embraced. It is our hope that the School Partnership Network may be able to provide a spark and the tools necessary to get them to consider this open door of service. No matter how big or how small your church may be, you can make a difference in your local school!