This was another article written this past Sunday April 11, 2010 in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Ministry offers more than preaching
By Tammy Keith
RIVER VALLEY and OZARK AREA — It’s not just about the preaching.
City of Hope Outreach, which started in 2007 when Phillip Fletcher felt called to minister to Oakwood Village mobile home park in Conway, has evolved into a partnership with local churches and colleges to have cleanups, community meals and tutoring for the children, who attend Marguerite Vann Elementary School.
The soft-spoken founder, who left his Army chaplain track to start the outreach, said the idea is for people to “take ownership, improve and break this stereotype of what Conway thinks Oakwood is. “Regardless if you believe in Jesus or not, it’s getting them together and saying, ‘How can we improve this community ?'”
Students from Central Baptist College and the University of Central Arkansas in Conway volunteer to tutor children from 4-6 p.m. weekdays, except Thursdays.
Gage Jordan, 22, a graduate of CBC, is a member of the City of Hope Outreach pastoral team. He came Tuesday to set up the table and chairs for the tutoring. Jordan said a Conway police officer told him the department receives “about 600 calls a month” about the park.
Public Information Officer Chris Harris said, “I don’t know the numbers, but I know we get a lot of calls. In that area, it could be disturbances, domestics, just all kinds of calls. We’ve had shots-fired calls. You name it; we’ve had it.”
He said any program that “helps cleanup the community and helps introduce them to their neighbors” is helpful. “If you take a more personal interest in where you live, it’ll always help you,” Harris said. Fletcher said he wants to help “restore people, so we don’t continue to foster the welfare mentality.”
UCA student J.J. Holland of Cabot, who tutors in the park twice a week, said she wants to become a counselor. “I really just enjoy it - I like kids a lot,” she said. Holland said that in addition to helping the children learn, “it’s more of an empowerment thing [for them] - ‘I really can learn this; I really can be more than people think I am.’ They’re very eager to learn, very eager to be praised.” Jessiah Nelson, 8, a secondgrader who lives in the park, ran up to her. “Teacher, teacher! Can I get the snacks out?” he asked.
Before the tutoring starts, the students get snacks local churches have donated. Jessiah, who was all about the snacks, said Holland “helps me read - she listens to me read. She helps me do my math cards.” Hailey Gibson, also 8, came up full of energy after a day at school. She said the tutors help her with math, which is her hardest subject. Jenn Tong, 19, a freshman education major at UCA, worked with Hailey on math problems. Hailey, a second-grader at Marguerite Vann Elementary School, said she wants to be an author and a teacher when she grows up. Noting that she appreciates her teacher Lisa Wimberly, Hailey said she loves to read. She rummaged in the plastic tub of books and supplies that are kept in a storage shed in the park and found her favorite, Monday with a Mad Genius. “I love it - love it, love it, love it,” she said.
Dallas Whittaker, 11, rode up on his bicycle after the tutoring started. He has been getting help with math.
He said he heard about the tutoring through King’s Club, another City of Hope Outreach program. Nicolle Fletcher told Dallas he should try the tutoring.
King’s Club is held for an hour every other Saturday for the children in the park, Nicolle said. “We do a short Bible story, play games with the kids, give them a snack,” she said.
She said the mobile home park residents, which she estimated at 300, have welcomed the City of Hope Outreach. “Once they realized we were serious and really cared about them and weren’t looking at them as a project, the doors opened up,” Nicolle said. She added, “Christ stepped into human history and became like us on Earth. That’s why we go into their environment. It’s a mission field all its own.” The Fletchers are close to receiving nonprofit status for the organization, Phillip said, and more information about the ministry and ways to volunteer or donate can be found at http://www.cityhopeoutreach.com/.
Several churches in Conway have partnered with City Hope Outreach, including Peace Lutheran, Celebration Church and New Life Church’s college age youth group, Elevation. David Revis of Conway, an Elevation member and a UCA sophomore, led a Thanksgiving project to give out turkeys in the park. “It was really cool to talk these different people,” Revis said. “They were way more appreciative than anybody would have ever guessed.” Going into the trailers was an eye-opening experience, too. “I’ve been in one that was almost brand-spanking new on the inside; I’ve also been in one I think there were five holes the kitchen, with cats jumping and out. He didn’t have his gas electricity on,” Revis recalled.
Chi Alpha, a Christian ministry at UCA, has 50-75 students involved in the City of Hope Outreach each month. Jennifer Shiefer, a Chi Alpha staff member, said it’s “an amaz ing opportunity” for students. “I think City of Hope needsthe manpower our students provide,” Shiefer said, “and I think our students need the connection the City of Hope provides. “We invest a lot of time and really try to teach our students to walk out their Christianity and not have it be a once-a-week kind of thing, but have it transform deep inside who they are.”
Nicolle Fletcher said the ministry has had an effect on her family, too, which includes three children. “From the very beginning, it was just a transformation for all of us,” Nicolle said. She said she enjoys looking at the scene on Sundays of white, black, Hispanic, all coming together. “At the end of the day, it boils down to we’re pretty much the same,” she said.
- tkeith@ arkansasonline.com
This article was published today at 6:52 a.m.
River Valley Ozark, Pages 139 on 04/11/2010