Kids Hope USA is a national program that started in Holland, Michigan in 1995. Today there are over 1,000 church/school partnerships in 34 states. Kids Hope USA matches a church with a public school. The church hires a director, who is trained by Kids Hope USA, and then members & regular attendees of the church volunteer to mentor a child. All mentors are trained and have background checks done. Each mentor spends one hour a week with their mentee during the school day. Children who are considered “at risk” either academically or socially are recommended by the school for Kids Hope mentors. This relationship can start in Kindergarten and last through 3rd grade.
In 2007 First Baptist Church started a Kids Hope program with Jefferson School as their partner school. Peggy Eagan was the first Kids Hope director. Peggy moved in 2013, and Shelly Hochstetler was hired as the new director. There are 23 mentors from the church who spend one hour a week with their students. During the mentoring hour mentors help students with school work, listen to students read, play games, or make a craft. The main job of a mentor is to be someone that a child can count on to show up, and to encourage and help their child with school.
Through the years the relationship between Jefferson School and First Baptist Church has gone beyond just mentoring students. For many years the church held a free carnival, which was planned and organized by Children’s Ministries Director, Becky McIntyre. Jefferson School students were given $5 vouchers that went towards the $20 school supply fee that families pay at the school. This past year the church set a goal to pay the whole school supply fee for those who were unable to pay it. Because of the generosity of the FBC family a check for $5,000 was given to Jefferson. This money covered all of the unpaid fees.
At Christmas time, attendees of FBC “adopt” families from Jefferson. Families in need at Jefferson School are recommended by the school, people from the church sign-up to buy presents for the children in those families. Each child gets 2 outfits and one toy. The presents are delivered to the school, where families can pick them up.
The church also provides supplies for the school nurse to give to children, which includes: underwear, socks, pants, shoes, and lice treatment kits. This year, because of a generous donation, all of the K-3rd grade and 4th-6th grade schools in Pekin received some of these items.
Jefferson School has also given back to First Baptist Church. The school has a food drive, and they have donated the food to the First Baptist Church food pantry.
What started out as a few Kids Hope mentors spending one on one time with students at Jefferson School has grown into a relationship between a public school and a church.