“I remember this because her words touched my heart.” As nine-year-old Joanne finished, I turned to look at Tabby—the inspiration for the poem—sitting at my side. Tears were in her eyes.
We were at Urban Ministry Center and Trinity Episcopal School’s end of the year party. It was a chance for three Moore Place tenants and three neighbors to return to Trinity to celebrate this year’s partnership. I sat with them, listening to the poems that the third graders had written about their experiences with the people beside me and Urban Ministry Center.
Urban Ministry Center has partnered with Trinity Episcopal School’s third grade since Trinity Episcopal School opened in 2000. The brain child of now retired third grade teacher Tatchi Dellinger, what started out as a group of children regularly making sandwiches has over the years become a program that fully immerses Trinity’s third graders into all of Urban Ministry Center’s programs, from CommunityWorks to HousingWorks to Neighbor Services.
For this year’s third graders, it all started when they met Johnny. After he spoke about his life on the streets, he opened the room up for questions. Hands shot up. The nine-year-olds brimmed with curiosity about everything, from where Johnny had slept to what his favorite color was. Many of them had never met someone who had experienced homelessness before.
Johnny’s visit was just beginning. In the start of each month, Trinity classes walked over to Urban Ministry to do an activity, while in the end of the month, a neighbor or tenant or even the whole choir would accompany me to participate in an activity at Trinity. In October we gardened, beautifying both the grounds of Trinity and Urban, children digging side by side with neighbors. In November, we created a collaborative piece, each of us decorating one square that made a whole. Ron taught the students how to use straight lines to make curves, and together, we produced a testament to our partnership.
In December, Tiffany returned to Trinity for the third year in the row to sing Christmas carols and drink hot cocoa, enjoying the good cheer of the holidays. We spent the beginning of the 2015 singing with the choir, and later playing Sorry and other board games at Moore Place.
March was dedicated to advocacy. After the third graders learned about the lack of affordable housing from Helping Homeless to Housing (HHH), they sent letters to City Council advocating for more housing. This caught the ear of Patsy Kinsey who later came to speak to their class about their concerns.
As the weather got warmer, Trinity spent time playing soccer and running with neighbors, learning more about how the CommunityWorks’ curriculum teaches good sportsmanship and life lessons.
The Trinity students quickly turned their new knowledge into action, supporting our neighbors. They collected over a thousand toiletry pieces per class, many of them personally going to hotels and other sites in order to get as many as they could. In the winter, they brought hats, scarves, and coats to help make sure no one was cold, and when they came to visit Moore Place brought house supplies for new residents. And of course, for the fifteenth year in a row they made over 500 sandwiches for the Soup Kitchen.
When asked to come up with a way to support the community, the students suggested selling neighbor’s artwork at Trinity’s Spring Art Festival. Thanks to them, ArtWorks was able to sell over $400 worth of art!
Trinity’s long standing partnership with Urban Ministry Center has produced a group of children who appreciate the experience of homeless individuals and are ready to help in any way they can. In the words of Bryeie:
Johnny and Me
Johnny was the first person
we ever met. Before he came,
I felt nervous, scared. I didn’t
think I could trust Johnny.
But when he got here, that’s
not how I felt. He told us
about how he went to jail
and why he went to jail
and that made me feel
sad, hopeful, joyful, trusted,
and he made me feel
like we were more alike
than we are different.”