Church gives back to community, focuses help on schools
The end of the year provides time to reflect but it also offers the opportunity to look ahead and see what differences can be made in the upcoming year. Woodlands Church in Plover is doing both.
In an effort to give back to the community, Woodlands Church in Plover already is planning for new community projects in 2017 with a focus on the Stevens Point Area Public School District.
For the past several years, the church has provided countless hours of volunteer work repairing roofs, reseeding and landscaping green areas, painting, building cabinets and whatever else school officials bring to them.
“It really is about serving the community and caring for the needs in the district,” said Pastor Doug Schneider. “And letting people know … they matter, and we appreciate the work they do.
“It’s part of our mission, it’s part of who we are. God has given us gifts, and we want to use those gifts to help bless people,” he said.
The church’s Spring into Action program began several years ago with a group of parishioners – about 500 between the Plover and Wisconsin Rapids locations – going out into the community and conducting projects. A few of those projects were in the schools.
That began in 2009, with church members coming to Sunday service dressed for work and heading out after the blessing at the close of the service. As the members involved grew, service switched to Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) – nearly 900 people were difficult to accommodate elsewhere when heading straight out to work after – and four short years later, the church decided to focus on the school system.
Since, congregation participation from Plover alone ranges between 450 and 500 people, and already members have contacted officials to determine how, when, where next year’s projects will be. Projects will be done on a Sunday in May.
Church officials annually make sure that the work chosen does not take away from school staff duties. Rather, the group assists with maintenance-related items that might not otherwise fit in with the school district Buildings and Grounds plans but still are needs.
“Without the help from Woodlands Church these projects would either not get done at all or the funds would have to be pulled from other areas,” Madison School Principal Karl Bancker said. “Our budgets are very tight, so every dollar we can spend on student learning rather than the upkeep of our buildings makes a difference to our students.”
In the past five years, Woodlands parishioners have done dozens of projects at Madison including painting bathrooms, hallways, the gymnasium (twice) and classrooms; reroofed a shed; built a shed; reconstructed an outdoor garden; landscaped areas around the building and the atrium; built classroom mailboxes, storage shelving, classroom bookshelves, cabinet doors and above locker cabinetry; installed the cabinet doors and above locker cabinetry; and provided funds to accomplish these projects.
“We have had nothing but great experiences each year,” Bancker said. “I have worked with Doug and a number of different project coordinators over the years and all of them have been extremely organized and communication has been great.
“We started small as we are unsure how much they could do and didn’t want to ask for too much,” he said. “After the first year when we saw the quantity and quality of the work they could do, we have expanded each year since. They are always looking to do more, and the quality of their work is great. They have yet to say no to any of our ideas.”
The church group completed similar projects at Ben Franklin and P.J. Jacobs Junior High Schools; Charles Fernandez Alternative School; Jefferson, McKinley, Kennedy, Plover-Whiting and Washington elementary schools; and SPASH.
The School Board earlier this year recognized Woodlands for the hours of time and the financial contributions to materials for the districtwide projects. The church also has been able to provide funding through grants from the Community Foundation, and donations of labor and materials from various companies with whom parishioners are employed, including Schulist Custom Cabinetry, which assisted with items for Washington and Kennedy schools and SPASH art department locking cabinets.
This year, the church group made up of about 450 people recorded more than 2,240 hours of volunteer time – that’s one Sunday afternoon, about five hours of work – at 11 district sites, including Boston School Forest, and completed 60 projects.
The church estimates it saved the district more than $33,600 in labor costs (calculated at $15 per hour), and it provided $17,000 in funding for the projects, including $9,000 from the church, $7,500 from the Community Foundation grant and $500 from Thrivent Financial Action Team funds.
Members of the church also have received donated use of specialized equipment when needed, including items like front-end loaders.
Though they do it to give back and let the district know how appreciated it is for what staff does educating the children, Schneider said, it is nice that the community notices as well. After putting in a two-story building that included a broadcast area and equipment shed at Ben Franklin, he received an offer from a community member to help paint the goal posts on the football field.
Shortly thereafter, following a junior high football game, a father approached Schneider to say “thank you.”
“Now you drive by and it’s a sports complex,” Schneider said. “It’s fun to see others get involved that way, too.”
Though it is nearly year’s end, church members have been working with district liaisons to match up different projects with skills the members have.
“Is it feasible,” Schneider said. “Let’s dream big and get all the ideas on the table. Then we can sit down and make sure it’s not going to take away work from anyone.”
Spring into Action also allows church members – who also make up the community that places their children in the district’s hands for six to eight hours a day – to become more familiar with district needs and what is happening in the district, he said.
“It’s a way to say teachers, administrators, buildings and facilities staff, we recognize what you’re doing,” he said. “You’re investing in our kids, and we want them to know they matter to God and they matter to us.”
Certainly there are limits in terms of liability and project scope, but every extended hand helps.
“I cannot say enough good things or express our appreciation enough to Doug and Woodlands Church,” Bancker said. “They demonstrate the meaning of giving back to the community, which is a life lesson we want our students to learn and live.”