E-learning centers buoy youth and families

by Captain Denesia Polusca

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This iconic phrase from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities resonates deeply. As the beginning of a new decade, 2020 especially began with promise. Here in the Kansas and Western Missouri (KWM) Division, we had great hopes to revitalize youth ministry and increase summer camp attendance which has declined in the last five years.

However, our well-laid plans were disrupted by COVID-19. Instead of summer camp at Three Trails Camp we hosted a shelter for homeless individuals exposed to COVID-19. Youth ministry was confined  to screens, drive-by visits and new efforts coined “_ in a box.” The innovation and resilience demonstrated by officers and staff has been amazing.

Here in KWM, we hold to the promise of Ephesians 3:17, believing God can and will do more! As last summer ended, we recognized school would look different; families began to utilize terms like hybrid, virtual and in-person modes. The challenges working parents faced spurred us to find solutions, resulting in a ministry of E-learning centers that have been supporting approximately 300 children and their families.

A Time to Thrive

Carrie Dixon, Three Trails marketing and guest relations director, knew camp could offer assistance to its Independence, Mo., community. A desire to help middle and high school students flourish gave birth to Thrive Camp. On the week they are in virtual learning mode, 50 youth come to Three Trails Camp and receive assistance from Thrive staffers in a safe space conducive to learning; the camp can scale up to host up to 100 as needed. Thrive campers say it’s been helpful, enjoyable and better than being at home. Just as impressive, their grades have improved!

“We knew that we needed to use camp to meet the needs of our community. We began looking for ways that we could fulfill our mission outside the summer camp box,” Carrie explained. “Thrive Camp came from that intentional decision to find ways to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of our community kids. We are so blessed to come alongside middle and high school students to take away the stress of virtual learning. We are watching them thrive!”

A Time to Collaborate

The Kansas City Eastside, Mo., Corps, led by Major Janice Love, has developed a wonderful partnership
with Global FC, a non-profit which focuses on helping immigrant families transition to American life. The organization’s three major goals are English as a second language, mentoring and soccer which acts like a glue to hold the three together. Many immigrant families they work with are first-generation refugees which often means families come from situations where education was interrupted or non-existent. When in-person education wasn’t possible at public schools, the organization had no where to provide afterschool tutoring even though it was needed more than ever.

The Eastside Corps’ partnership with them means this vital service has continued. Global FC now tutors 90 children at the corps. Ciella Mupda, a Van Horn High School sophomore and volunteer, said she’s gained valuable experience as she’s observed children flourishing from the provision of a safe space tolearn, grow and engage in  community. Eastside Corps soldiers also have embraced the opportunity to support the E-learning center, and some volunteer daily like Barbara Zumwalt, who says she wants to demonstrate the love of Christ.

A Time for Expansion

Subsequently, the Kansas City Westport Temple Corps and Northland Corps began working with their school districts to offer E-learning centers to families. Each location can serve up to 20 children.

According to Major Jim Mungai, Northland corps officer, their focus is on serving middle school students who meet in the large fellowship hall which has a dedicated WiFi network to better enable virtual learning and homework. Each student has a designated area which they are free to decorate. Throughout the day learning  alternates with lunch and breaks where tabletop and other games like foosball—all sanitized—are available. They plan to extend recreation options to the large gymnasium and even offer indoor archery. Families  have heard of this opportunity through fliers distributed by the school district, and the E-learning center is underwritten by the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act.

The Wichita, Kan., Command also began collaborating in November with schools to provide a safe place for Elearning for up to 120 children at the Citadel and West Orchard Corps and Hiawatha Camp and Retreat Center. According to Major Jim Curl, Wichita area commander, the SALCenters (Salvation Army Learning Centers) are patterned after those in Kansas City and serve middle school students doing hybrid learning. After tremendous job losses in the county, this new service is filling a gap for parents who have been able to find desperately needed employment. Site monitors help youth stay engaged in virtual learning and focused on their schoolwork. The command is planning to expand the service at corps into summer day camps, in conjunction with Hiawatha which features extensive outdoor space, recreation equipment and venues, which then could roll back into learning and other programs at the corps.

A Time to Believe

In KWM, we believe God can and will do more and are witnessing this truth. Ministry last year certainly did not unfold the way we had imagined or planned, but God never stops working on our behalf. Our  goals of increasing youth ministry in corps and awareness and utilization of Three Trails Camp were fulfilled in unexpected ways with new opportunities, ministries and collaborations that have extended our reach. As a Sunday school chorus simply puts it, “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.”





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