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GR Aldersgate connects with schools

Books from Aldersgate UMC

Grand Rapids Aldersgate UMC continues to expand their relationship with the Northview schools with a gift of books selected by the “seen” Project.

Grand Rapids Aldersgate United Methodist Church has partnered with the Northview schools for the past nine years. That relationship continues to grow.

On the heels of last year’s “Hand2Hand” project for food-insecure students, Aldersgate’s Vision and Leadership Board (VLB) recently approved three $200 grants for a program to deliver books to Northview Elementary School libraries. The effort is supported through VLB’s “Mission Possible” grant funds established during 2021.

Called the “seen” Project the goal is to inspire students to value diversity and be advocates for inclusion in their community. The project is the brainchild of Matt Witkowski, director of the Community Ministries Program at Grand Rapids Trinity United Methodist Church. Matt is a member of Aldersgate’s VLB.

Matt developed this project, he says “After a powerful first experience working with the special needs community and then multiple new first experiences as I continued to volunteer and help introduce other churches to first time experiences. The idea emerged out of my need to find what more I could do. It’s a simple concept with a profound possible impact.”

The publicity brochure says it this way: “Our project promotes helping children to develop a welcoming spirit and to create unity among their peers. Together we demonstrate that those with differences are seen, heard, and celebrated.”

Indeed, the concept is simple. Packages of 20 specially selected books, plus one bonus book signed by a local author, are donated to elementary school libraries. Matt’s goal is to reach 100 schools in Michigan, and he is well on his way.

Aldersgate leaders visit North Oakview Elementary School
Leaders from the Vision and Leadership Board of Grand Rapids Aldersgate United Methodist Church present a book package to Jason Hoogenstyn, principal of North Oakview Elementary School. (L-r: Bill Johnson, Jason Hoogenstyn, and Matt Witkowski.) ~ photo courtesy Bill Johnson

On Tuesday, September 28, Matt and the Rev. Bill Johnson delivered three baskets to North Oakview Elementary School. They were met by Principal Jason Hoogenstyn and Teacher-Librarian Carrie Davies. In thanki.)ng the pair from Aldersgate, Hoogenstyn commented, “It is our belief and practice to help all students be seen and heard in our school. The book basket fits perfectly with how we try to find ways for all of our students to see themselves in text.” 

Davies added, “All of our North Oakview students and staff will benefit from the books you so generously donated to our library collection … We are excited for the learning, discussions, and pure reading joy that will no doubt occur as a result of these books being gifted to our library. Thank you for the meaningful work you are doing in the Northview community!” Hoogenstyn will deliver the other two baskets to East and West Elementary School libraries.

“Connecting with the Community” is one of Aldersgate’s strategic goals for 2021-2022. Partnering with the local schools is a key to reaching this goal. “It’s all about mission ‘with,’ not ‘to’ our neighbors, to help build a healthy community surrounding our church,” said Johnson, chair of the Aldersgate Vision and Leadership Board.

~ If you are a church, missions team, or interested community member wanting to learn more about the “seen” Project, contact Matt Witkowski (m.witkowski@grtumc.org). Matt is one of ten persons who participated in a pilot group of Ministry Incubators in The Michigan Conference. See related story.