Wayland Students Giving Back To Their Community

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Wayland Baptist University students are taking advantage of a generous donation, using the gift to fund a mission project at a local elementary school.

Wayland sophomore Nicole Adams, from Amarillo, anchors the assembly line of students who gathered at Northside Baptist Church to put together backpacks of food for students at Thunderbird Elementary S

I'm praying that when the kids see this they will see Jesus behind it.

Sometimes $7,500 can seem like the world. It certainly did to a group of students at Wayland Baptist University recently when an anonymous donor gave them the money to buy food.

The food wasn’t for the students at Wayland, but it was for students — young elementary students at Plainview’s Thunderbird Elementary School. The generous gift made it possible for students involved in Wayland’s Diakonia group to implement a backpack program aimed at ministering to the families at the school.

According to Wayland sophomore Nicole Adams, the idea for the Diakonia program, in general, is based on the biblical passage in Matthew 25 where Jesus tells his followers in verse 40: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ”

“That actually came up in a Bible study Dr. (Richard) Shaw was doing,” she said. “We wanted to be able to connect students at Wayland with the community,” the psychology student from Amarillo said.

Shaw, who is the director of the Wayland Mission Center, explained that the term Diakonia means service or ministry and the Bible study to which Adams referred started about 18 months ago. As the students began to express an interest in serving, Shaw sent them out into the Plainview community to visit with agencies that were serving the needy. In particular, he explained, the students were interested in agencies that were ministering to the hungry.

As it turned out, he continued, the students discovered that there were many agencies targeting the hungry, but there was one segment of the community that seemed to lack any particular focus . . . the children.

As the Wayland students considered the results of their canvas of the community, they realized that in many instances children came from homes where the parent or parents were working on the weekends. In particular, that was true in the Thunderbird area and it exacerbated a situation in which the school already was seeing a significant part of its student population on the free-and-reduced-lunch program.

According to Thunderbird Principal Andrew Hannon, of the approximately 470 students attending the school, more than 90 percent are in the free-and-reduced-lunch program.

Adams was one of the students who visited with administrators at the school and learned firsthand of the need to help students in the Thunderbird neighborhood.

The idea, she said, was to put together a small backpack with food that could be prepared by a child, without adult supervision, that was nutritious. The packs contain cereal, fruit wraps, non-perishable milk, and canned stew with pull-up tops, among other things. Once assembled, the packs would be given to students at the end of the day on Friday to take home for the weekend. Then if the parents were out of the home over the weekend working, the children would be able to prepare their own meals.

The program was one that fellow student Rachel Bartel was familiar with from her hometown of Pampa. She and Adams took the lead roles in getting the project going, although Bartel has since graduated and now works for Wayland.

Hannon explained that once the plan was developed, school administrators sent notes home to the parents encouraging them to allow their children to participate in the backpack program. He pointed out that backpacks only would be sent with children whose parents approved and initially a few responses began to trickle in.

Then the unexpected happened. A local company, Cargill Meat Solutions, announced that it was going to close its facility, throwing more than 2,000 employees out of work. While there is no way to confirm the correlation, when Adams met with her fellow students the week after the announcement to prepare the bags, she had news for them. The request for backpacks had jumped from around 20 the week before to more than 80 that night.

Shaw saw a connection in the ability of the program to meet the unexpected need. Of the closing of the plant and subsequent uncertainty that sent through the community he was specific: “The Lord knew that (was going to happen). We had no clue.”

Hannon said he is glad the university students have chosen to partner with his campus and he said the program has been well received.

“You can see it in the way the kids are responding to it. They enjoy the food,” he said, adding that his elementary students are really good about bringing back the backpacks.

From the university students’ perspective, the whole project has been a thrill to be a part of. Adams explained that once word got out about what her group was wanting to do, others in the community stepped up to make it happen.

“Nancy Keith at Wayland Housing heard about it and she used the money from the fines from the students in the dorms (to purchase backpacks for the project),” Adams said.

Northside Baptist Church, which is located across the street from Thunderbird Elementary, donated a room for the students to use to store the food and prepare the backpacks.

Then, there was the monetary donation.

“For me ($7,500) is a lot of money. That’s more money than I can imagine,” she said. “It’s a breath of fresh air to find someone who has that kind of a heart, and to do it anonymously proves they’re not just doing it to get recognition for themselves. It lets me know that they believe in our cause and that there is a big God backing our cause.”

Zaca Wilson, a freshman religion major from Fritch, is helping Adams spearhead the project. He sees it as a way to hopefully open the door for a greater relationship with the families in the Thunderbird neighborhood.

“I’m praying that when the kids see this they will see Jesus behind it. I’m also praying that it will spread to the families, not just the kids. I’m hoping that the relationships we start will extend beyond the school,” he said.

He and Adams also are hoping the program will expand beyond Thunderbird Elementary to other schools in Plainview. Anyone interested in getting more information about the backpack program or making a donation to support it may contact the Development Office at Wayland at 806-291-3425.

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