Literacy camp makes big splash in small town


By Holly McCray

A large tarpaulin creates a fun water slide for intern Lucia Gwarada, center, and friends.

At left, Jymme Joe Martin helps youngsters swing clubs at the Mangum golf course. Above, campers and intern Sarah Poteet stand strong during a tour of the brick company.
Photos by Leona Thao

The remarkable ministry that is Project Transformation (PT) expanded to an unfamiliar setting this summer.

Since 2002 the literacy ­daycamp, for disadvantaged elementary students, had operated solely in urban centers during June and July. Then Mangum-First United Methodist Church’s application to host the program was approved.

Population totals 2,945 for Mangum, in far southwestern Oklahoma. That’s small-town size to many folks.

Pockets of poverty often are easy to identify in a city. But the people of First Church knew children in need in their community, too. Pastor Marsha Purtell said 70 percent of Mangum students qualify for the federal assisted-meal program at school.

On multiple levels, Project Transformation made a big impact in smaller Magnum. PT Director Lindsey Bryan of Oklahoma City described one life affected.

She saw a boy sitting on the church porch when she arrived one day. His mother would not permit him to enroll, she learned. Still, he showed up daily at the church and ate meals with the campers. He sought to participate any way he could.

"The boy even took out the trash. He just wanted to be there," Bryan said.

William Sanders plays accordion for the campers.

PT leaders built a relationship with the mother, and that boy did attend camp.

Poverty can reveal itself in behaviors. "Some parents don’t want their kids to read past the parents’ level," Bryan commented.

Numbers also measure PT’s effectiveness in Mangum: 52 youngsters, exceeding the average of 35-40 for new PT sites; 60 volunteers; and 3,426 meals served.

Literacy education was primary, but lots of activities enriched personal growth. Campers visited the radio station, brick company, bank, post office, power station, courthouse, Chamber of Commerce and, in Altus, Western State College. At Greer County Museum, they pretended to be pioneers. Rick Hobbs gave an astronomy presentation, complete with telescope.

Service projects helped Circle of Care and Christian Thrift Store.

Volunteers came from the community as well as three churches, enthused Rev. Purtell. They included sheriff’s deputies, Lions Club members, and retired school teachers. First Church secured grant funds to serve breakfast and lunch each weekday and lunch Saturday for any children.

Purtell said the experience changed some church members’ perspectives on poverty, moving them to willing service in Christ’s name.

Seven Americorps interns managed the program, overseen by Mary Jane Scott, church co-lay leader. The young adults lodged at a bed-and-breakfast beside the church. Their ethnic diversity enriched the cultural encounter, Purtell said. Two were from Zimbabwe, and one was Asian-American.

At seven host churches in Oklahoma, the 2012 PT program assisted 441 youngsters. Total volunteers: 1,022. Total meals served, including snacks: 28,943. The other churches were Southern Hills and Grace in Tulsa, OKC-Chapel Hill, Moore-First, Bartlesville-First, and Muskogee-St. Paul’s.

Deadline is Sept. 3 to apply as a host church for Summer 2013.

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