St. James delivers rest and renewal to Wichita families
January 2023 · Forward in Hope, Mission Brief
The Outreach Committee of St. James Episcopal Church takes its work seriously. Rather than simply writing a check to an organization, the 16 members choose to go all in, first by educating themselves about real needs within their Wichita community and then drafting a plan of action that will produce the most benefit.
“When you learn about an agency and what they’re doing, it’s a natural instinct to want to get involved and help,” says Outreach leader Judy Goodpasture.
That process has resulted in St. James becoming one of Saint Francis Ministries’ most vital community partners, and it started with the church’s Pocket Change Ministry, through which parishioners regularly contribute their pocket change to support four charities – Breakthrough Episcopal Social Services, Kansas Children’s Service League, Wichita Children’s Home, and Saint Francis Ministries. Since its institution in 2015, the Pocket Change Ministry has given a total of $19,300 to the four nonprofit organizations.
Then, during the COVID outbreak, the church celebrated its 100th anniversary.
“We had a fund drive to celebrate the centennial,” says Judy. “The drive was used to make repairs on the roof, repair the stonework, install two elevators, and fund a charitable project. I was asked to head the project, and we selected Saint Francis Ministries. We looked at several opportunities, but finally settled on refurbishing the five family visitation rooms” (at one of the nonprofit’s Wichita offices).
The visitation rooms provide space where children in foster care can spend time with their birth parents during supervised visits. The rooms serve an essential purpose in Saint Francis’ ministry of healing by enabling families to spend quality time together and remain connected during a difficult period.
After planning the project for a few months, they’ve actively worked in the rooms for more than a year. They’ve recently completed the fifth space – dubbed “the purple room” – all accomplished during the weekends to protect the privacy of clients.
“The rooms were pretty bare when we began,” says Judy. “As you can imagine these visits can be quite emotional, so we wanted to provide a welcoming, colorful, cheerful room for them to meet in. We’ve also provided books and games and toys, something they can do together, interactive things between a parent and child.”
The committee’s first step was to paint the rooms. They kept the beige color but added a different accent for each room – light blue, aqua, gold, green, and lavender. Then they decorated and stocked the rooms.
“We wanted books for all ages, with wholesome, educational themes and that featured children of different races and creeds,” says Judy. “We have new and used books, but all the used books are in good condition. We wanted puzzles for various ages so parents and children can interact and put a puzzle together. We also added construction toys, like Legos, Lincoln Logs, and blocks, as well as games and educational card sets with the alphabet and multiplication tables. We decided against computer toys, anything with a battery, or toys suggesting violence.”
The committee thought it important that every activity support positive interaction between parent and child. Likewise, they wanted children to feel free to take anything they might need.
“One weekend, we were there cleaning up and noticed that three dolls were missing – we’d put a doll in each of the rooms – and we thought, ‘Well, isn’t that great, somebody needed a doll. We’re happy to see them go.’ We’ve also put a sign near the books that says, “Feel free to take a book.’ We have a supply of at least 400 books, so we’re happy to lose them. In fact, we’ve made a commitment to return every four to six weeks to refresh the rooms and to pick up and replace broken or missing items.”
After a year, one can sense that Judy and her fellow Outreach Committee members have received as much as they have given to the project.
“There are other agencies doing foster care in our state, but Saint Francis is the most significant,” says Judy. “The people we have met from Saint Francis are just so down-to-earth, people who care about what they’re doing, and that’s impressive. Yes, we were drawn to them because it’s an Episcopal organization, but also because they have a real mission, and the people seem so genuine.”
The biggest beneficiaries, though, are the children and families who get to use the visitation rooms, thanks to the compassion, contributions, and energy of St. James and its people. Because of their concern, families are strengthened, and children are comforted.
“We put plaques up outside each room,” says Judy. “They’re small, but nice, and each says, ‘This room was furnished by St. James Episcopal Church. May God’s love bring you peace and renewal,’ so that as they enter the room, they have a sense that someone is caring for them in some way.”
Since finishing the rooms, the St. James Outreach Committee has returned every six weeks to clean and refresh the rooms. They recently ended their SFM project to focus on a refugee family project. You can learn more about St. James the parish by visiting https://stjameswichita.org/.