When Ginny Howell saw a group of children climbing on new playground equipment at Kansas City’s Garfield Elementary School, she ran and grabbed her camera.
Howell wanted to capture the moment that she said clearly confirmed her hopes — that the playground would be a blessing to the community and a blessing to the school.
Garfield, which serves 530 students from 15 countries, is the fourth school in Kansas City Public Schools to benefit from a decade-old Church of the Resurrection program established to support urban schools in the Kansas City area.
When it started in 2006, “we called it Paint the School,” said Roberta Lyle, staff liaison for the church. “But it is so much more than just come in, paint and then leave.”
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Church volunteers partner with selected schools throughout the year to tutor students, donate backpacks stuffed with school supplies and provide support in a number of other ways, Lyle said.
So the name was changed to Bless the School.
Organizers from Resurrection work with Kansas City Public Schools as early as October to identify a school that needs sprucing up. In the summer, while students and teachers are gone, volunteers spend a week giving the school a makeover.
This week, Howell, Lyle and more than 500 other church volunteers came together to give Garfield a touch-up, including painting every one of the 25 classrooms, restoring playground equipment and repairing rickety seats in the school auditorium. New basketball goals were set to go outside Thursday.
Volunteers also touched up wall murals and stenciled artwork and a walking track onto the concrete around the playground. Members ages 12 to 80 from all of Resurrection’s four campuses in Blue Springs, Kansas City, Leawood and Olathe work and mingle. Resurrection is the largest Methodist church in the United States.
“This is our community,” said Cathy Bien, spokeswoman for Resurrection, which has its main campus in Leawood.
“We may live on the other side of the state line, but Kansas City is our neighbor,” Bein said, explaining another reason the United Methodist congregation is investing nearly 100 hours this week into beautifying Garfield.
School district workers cleared the classrooms of furniture and prepared the walls to be painted.
The money for equipment and supplies used to rehab the school comes from Resurrection. The church uses a portion of its Christmas Eve offering to support Bless the School, said Adam Hamilton, a senior pastor.
“When we look at how we can impact the future of this city, it is through education. We can help provide an environment that is conducive to learning,” Bien said.
At Garfield on Tuesday, volunteers began streaming through the school’s front doors about 5 p.m. to begin the last of the three shifts for the day. They came ready to work in T-shirts and shorts, some of them not realizing that Garfield, built in 1962 at 436 Prospect Ave., is air conditioned.
Before heading through the two-story building to work, each crew gathered in a circle. A volunteer led them in prayer.
“We pray for the teachers, we pray for the administrators, we pray for the school,” said Hamilton.
Most important, “the students are going to be delighted when they come back and see all of this,” said Patricia Jensen, Garfield vice principal. She and other school personnel have joined volunteers every night working in the building.
“This really brightens up the learning environment,” Jensen said. “And it is a lesson in teaching kids how people help one another.”
That’s not only true for the Garfield students, Howell said. Lessons are learned by volunteers too.
Howell recalled watching earlier in the day as a young boy took direction from an older church volunteer who had handcrafted large wooden frames used to display expressive black and white photos of former Garfield students along a hallway wall. Old teach the young. And sometimes, she said, it’s the other way around.
Olivia Swyers had coaxed her dad, Mike Swyers, and her older sister Sydney to volunteer with Bless the School. The three were adding bright blue paint to a bland beige wall.
“Our family doesn’t often get the chance to serve together, so I thought serving in the middle of summer break would be a good idea,” said the 16-year-old Blue Valley West high school senior.
“Plus I love Jesus, I love my family and I love kids, so this was kind of a good combination of all of that.”