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Project Transformation is a UM literacy daycamp for elementary students
By Cindy Mayes
One outstanding aspect of Project Transformation (PT) is that it is intergenerational. From the elementary-age children participating in the program to the youth groups who volunteer, the college kids who spend their summers at church sites running the program, and the adults of all ages who volunteer their time as mentors, it truly is a fully intergenerational ministry in the life of the Church.
Volunteer Esther Gene Morrison, from Tulsa-Asbury UMC, is in her late 80s. She speaks fluent Spanish, developed from years of service as a missionary, and many of the kids are Hispanic at the Tulsa-Southern Hills site. What a great match.
At Tulsa-Grace, Bobbie East is "84 years young," as described by site coordinator Donna Real. A disruptive young camper was befriended by East. The coordinator shared the outcome:
"Bobbie began talking and visiting with him, encouraging him to be an excellent participant in the program. He responded to her love and concern and became almost an ideal camper. Bobbie ended up having a special token made for him, with his name engraved on it. The camper has been attending some [church] services and has brought a friend.
"A few years ago, Bobbie also made a relationship with another child, who had some severe emotional problems, and has continued to send him books and birthday cards. He came in to thank Bobbie this year when his mother was picking up other campers."
At Tulsa-Southern Hills UMC, hosting PT again this summer led the congregation to respond to an entire family in sudden crisis. Pastor Jeff Jaynes told the story:
"We’ve had two girls in our program since nearly the beginning. They moved out of the area to another school, but their mom has seen the effect of Project Transformation on the girls’ lives. She reapplied every summer.
"Halfway through this summer, [we] got a call that the girls’ home burned to the ground. Everything, including a beloved pet, was consumed. The girls were not only heartbroken; they had nothing but the clothes on their backs.
"Our church pitched in to provide needed items as well as short-term financial support. We provided spiritual and emotional help for the girls and their mother. Project Transformation not only transformed a tragic situation into one of growth—it also helped connect our church to a need we could help fulfill."
Also in Tulsa, Aldersgate UMC moved the program to the former UM Church of the Shepherd building. This was truly a blessing, since Aldersgate’s building was in the midst of repairs from a tornado. They were able to set everything up to specifically suit the program. There was no need of moving things back into place for Sunday. It allowed for a lot of freedom.
Over the course of eight years, I’ve watched so many people be changed by their experience with the program. When people immerse themselves in this ministry, it grabs them and they want to continue to be involved in it.
The children are certainly impacted. But so are the young adults who intern as program leaders.
Daniel Reck, an intern for two years and the Tulsa house chaplain this summer, is now studying economics in graduate school in Michigan. I met Daniel when he came to volunteer at Tulsa-Grace after he graduated from high school; he volunteered over 250 hours that summer. Some of his undergraduate work at OU focused on poverty issues in Oklahoma. That focus was a direct result of his experience with PT. He will be a vocal advocate on issues of poverty wherever he goes and whatever he does.
PT has changed my whole family. Both my daughters and one son-in-law were interns. My other son-in-law spent much of one summer volunteering. I’ve experienced the program from its pregnancy and birth in Tulsa, as a site supervisor at Grace, chairing the Tulsa Steering Committee, as a board member, and as board chairperson.
This ministry makes you see the world with a new set of eyes.
PT makes you believe that one person really can make a difference. When you witness the changes in the children, the interns, and the volunteers, it moves you to tears. You know you’re witnessing God change the world, bit by bit, right in front of you. And you get to be a part of that. Nothing brings more satisfaction and joy.