Interfaith Alliance is formed to address needs in schools

Published 12:10 am Thursday, December 6, 2018

By Larry Stombaugh
For the Clemmons Courier

It only takes a few minutes after meeting Dr. Vincent Howell to know that he has a compassionate heart. Dr. Howell is the pastor of the Centenary United Methodist Church on Hampton Road in Clemmons. When he attended a joint meeting this summer with the Clemmons Community Foundation and social workers from schools in our area, he came away with a plan to address some specific needs of local students.

The meeting took place in August, and social workers shared their concerns about students whose needs include food, clothes, and tutoring. Dr. Howell later attended a follow-up meeting with the social workers on Oct. 11 at Morgan Elementary School, the day that Hurricane Michael came through the area. After the meeting, he determined that his church, which has a history of being involved in the community, could address some needs of students in local schools. “We are a community focused church,” he remarked.    

Dr. Howell became the pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in July of 2017, and he was impressed right away by the congregation’s service to the community. An ongoing project has been a ministry at the ICU Unit at Baptist Hospital. Church members have been taking snacks and soft drinks and praying with patients there for 14 years.

His plan for helping schools extends beyond involvement from his church to include about 10 other churches in the Clemmons area. “There is a wealth of things that we can do as a faith community to help the schools,” he said.

After identifying specific needs in local schools, Dr. Howell met with several faith community leaders on Nov. 14 to address those needs. “We want to work closely with faith leaders, community and school leaders and the social workers in our schools,” he said. He indicated that the plan that has been developed is focused on four priorities that include needs for clothing, special-needs food for school children, tutoring for young students, and career coaching for high school students. A specific plan for addressing the need for food is to make food available for students who have specific dietary concerns including students who have diabetes or other medical issues. There will be discussions with “Women Who Care” and the Clemmons Food Pantry about this. WWC already has committed to be involved with this aspect of the program.

Dr. Howell indicated that the first phase of his plan that involves addressing clothing needs is already taking shape. From the meeting with the faith leaders in November he said that “we agreed to begin with the low-hanging fruit.” The need for clothing seemed to be the first priority for the four-step program. “We have a room in our church that is already half full of clothing,” he said. “There is affirmation of God speaking to us.” Three rooms at the church have been designated for the collection of food and clothes that will be donated.

The tutoring phase of the program will be an item for further discussions with school partners at the next meeting. Centenary Church has already started planning for a ministry called “Hungry Minds.” This will be a free book give-away program.  “Hopefully, this can be a support for tutoring and reading efforts,” Howell said. Book donations will be requested to provide resources for schools to foster this part of the program. Both the tutoring program for elementary students and the career coaching program for high school students will require community resources and a significant number of adult volunteers.

Sandi Scanelli, the president and CEO of the Clemmons Community Foundation, voiced her support for the program. “We are delighted to support this interfaith initiative with the schools as a way to help students in areas beyond public education. It is difficult to imagine navigating parenting children today without a community of encouragement and support.”

She also expressed her gratitude for Howell’s role with the interfaith alliance. “Thanks to Dr. Howell’s leadership and with the school social workers, the group has identified the highest current priorities and individuals and organizations to work on each area. We are grateful to his congregation at Centenary United Methodist Church for supporting the designation of a portion of their facilities for some of those needs.”

As the holiday season approaches, it is gratifying to have several churches in our area addressing significant concerns that are affecting students in our schools. The services and the resources that they will be providing through the interfaith alliance program are a terrific gift to our community.