By CHRIS SCHUTZ
Organizers of Project Transformation (PT) are preparing for another summer of addressing the academic, physical, and spiritual needs of disadvantaged elementary-age children in Oklahoma. Through internships, the program also gives college students a way to explore ministry possibilities and develop as young adult leaders.
It can be a life-changing experience for the young adults as well as the children, said Janina Graves of Stillwater, a former intern who is now a member of the organization’s board of directors.
Graves was a PT intern while she attended Oklahoma State University. She called her summer of PT service a formative experience. She was majoring in elementary education and Spanish.
By tutoring a girl from a Hispanic home, she learned "how vitally important language was." Graves reapplied herself to her Spanish studies and has become fluent in the language.
"It’s a skill set I use all the time," Graves said. She has been able to converse in Spanish during trips to Mexico and Bolivia, and she hosts a weekly Spanish conversation group at OSU’s Wesley Foundation, where she is the student ministry coordinator.
Graves said the PT internship also gave her a "more realistic perspective of the challenges of poverty."
Intern is now board member
Through her service on the board, Graves has learned that PT is "one of the most practical ways that The United Methodist Church in Oklahoma is loving God and loving people."
Eight churches are Project Transformation sites this summer: Tulsa-Southern Hills UMC; Metropolitan Baptist Church, Tulsa; OKC-Chapel Hill UMC; Moore-First UMC; Mangum-First UMC; Bartlesville-First UMC; El Reno-Wesley UMC; and Muskogee-St. Paul’s UMC. Each site conducts its own enrollment for the eight-week literacy-based program.
More than 500 children total are expected to participate.
Some 50 college students who will be housed near the churches will help coordinate PT this summer. Some will live in Oklahoma City University dorm rooms. Those in Mangum will live in a parsonage. Others will stay in houses at Tulsa and the Muskogee School for the Blind.
A primary focus is helping children maintain or improve their reading levels by the time they return to school in the fall, according to PT Director Sarah Nichols and Associate Director Charlie Ludden. Statistics show that 80 percent of low-income students in Oklahoma do not read on grade level.
Thousands of volunteer hours
The project involves major commitment for the organizers. A literacy program coordinator develops a reading plan for each child, Nichols said. In all, 11,500 volunteer hours are spent serving over 37,000 meals to children and young adults and reading with the kids.
This summer’s overall theme is Disney stories. Nichols said the children will explore times when characters are brave or kind and respect differences in each other.
PT has seen encouraging results. All the PT students across the state in 2014 maintained or improved their reading levels, measured when they went back to school, Nichols said.
She and Ludden hope "to work ourselves out of a job by helping close the literacy gap," Nichols said.
Volunteers at Tulsa-Southern Hills UMC were pleased to learn all the third-graders in its 2013 program passed the mandatory state reading test. In El Reno, 40 percent of Wesley’s PT students improved their reading levels and 60 percent maintained them in 2014.
If you would like to support PT in any way, call Nichols or Ludden at 405-530-2009 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Return to contact digest