September 16, 2013

Back to School Giving Led by Methodist Volunteers

One program in Denver is doing what it can to help newly resettled refugees manage the costs of sending kids to school. Refugee Outreach: CLOTHING KIDS, or ROCK, founded by Marsha Carey and her husband Chris, recently held its annual back-to-school clothing store.

Seeing the need among newly arrived refugee children, this project began in 2008 under the oversight of the Green Mountain UMC outreach committee. In its first year, ROCK assisted 50 kids. This year, ROCK supplied 293 refugee children with two full sets of school clothes and sent them each home with a new backpack filled with their required school supplies.

“Our goal is to help children look their best and feel their best, so they can do their best,” says Carey.

The clothing store, where all items are free to refugees, fill the fellowship hall of Christ Church. Refugee children are assisted by volunteers in finding clothes that fit, meet their school’s uniform requirements, and, most importantly, suit their individual tastes.

“Not all khaki pants are the same,” ROCK volunteer Cassie Turner says.

ROCK benefits from numerous partners, including area resettlement agencies, like CWS affiliate, Ecumenical Refugee and Immigration Services, who refer refugee families to ROCK’s services. In 2012, ROCK received a grant from UMCOR. The grant “made all the difference in the world,” says Carey. The funds from UMCOR were used to purchase backpacks, rent a van for helping families get to and from the store, and get the word out to potential volunteers.

While ROCK’s volunteer and donor base has grown, many of ROCK’s donations and volunteers still come from two Methodist congregations, Green Mountain UMC and Christ Church UMC.

Refugee families are the direct beneficiaries of the program, but ROCK volunteers are in agreement: they gain from giving. Suzanne Brauer, a member at Christ Church, sums up her experience as a ROCK volunteer, “It’s fun…It’s an uplifting experience to give.”

“It’s so rewarding. It’s nice to see how excited the kids are to get their clothes,” states Turner, who is also a member at Green Mountain.

Green Mountain is a relatively small church with only about 200 people attending Sunday services. “But,” says Outreach Committee chairperson and ROCK volunteer Anna Meyers, “our church has the biggest angel hearts around. With God’s help and with our prayers, we can do so much.”

Turner became a member at Green Mountain in large part due to the congregation’s commitment to community engagement. “There are so many people at Green Mountain who are looking to give back, to contribute to the greater good.

“Where you find people who have faith,” Turner continues, “you also find people who want to make this world a better place.” While faith is important to her, Turner isn’t convinced it is what drives her volunteerism. “I’d hope that even if I didn’t have faith, I’d still be doing things like this.”