One question began the ministry of Ekklesia to a local elementary school in downtown Hattiesburg, Mississippi. “If your church were to close its doors today, would the surrounding community even notice?” Today the answer to that question would be a resounding, “Yes!” In five years of partnership in ministry at Hawkins Elementary test scores are rising, absenteeism is down and teacher morale is clearly up.
Ekklesia employees Sharon Miles serving full-time at the school leading their “Neighbors at Hawkins” ministry. Miles works with the teachers to find needs and coordinates all the volunteers from the church and the nearby University of Southern Mississippi. These volunteers do everything from direct tutoring, to one-on-one mentoring and helping teachers with non-teaching tasks. Additionally, they execute extracurricular activities year round including seasonal events and school dances which reward students for achievement and good behavior.
Ekkesia determined after its first year that it could pay the local matching portion to bring AmeriCorps tutors to Hawkins Elementary. Neighbors’ longstanding work bringing daily activity into the school from local volunteers combined with the work of AmeriCorps members has shown great and quantifiable results. Of all third and fourth graders at Hawkins in 2010 only 14 percent scored at or above proficent in reading/language arts and 29 percent scored at or above proficient in math. In 2011 those numbers rose dramatically to 31 percent in reading/language arts and 71 percent in math. In both categories those at or above the needed level doubled in a single year.
What is almost equally impressive to note is how the whole Neighbors at Hawkins program is being funded. 95 percent of students qualify for federal free or reduced lunches and many of the students come from single parent families which means funding must come from outside. Ekklesia, which has rooted itself as a worshipping community blocks away in the same community, is funding nearly all of it as a church under five years old. They did this by committing from the first year to spend at least half of all income to the church outside the church walls. Between budget years 2009 – 2011 that figure stood at 72 percent and they’ve placed no limit on their commitment to transform this community that has been entrusted to them through meaningful relationships. They’re growing while and by giving themselves away.
For more check out this short video on The Hattiesburg “Neighbors at Hawkins” Program from 2008.