Ministry With Grant Highlight: Empowering Neighbors Is Key

Vecinos camp

The Vecinos Community Center offered its first summer camp in 2021.

Outreach, engagement with immigrant families in Sherman has flourished at Vecinos Community Center

This is the second of a series of stories highlighting the 2021 recipients of more than $50,000 in Ministry With Grants.

In May, the CMO announced $50,000 in “Ministry With” grants made to local churches and their partners in mission with neighbors across North Texas. This month, we highlight one of those efforts that received $10,000 in start-up funding.

The Vecinos Community Center is an effort by the Hispanic/Latino Ministries of First UMC Sherman and its immigrant neighbors to embody the vision of “neighbors transforming one another on the love of Christ.” Concretely, this program is building-out a church-based community center to respond to needs of Latino/a immigrants in the Sherman community.

Rev. Flor Granillo who was appointed as Associate Pastor to First UMC Sherman’s community in 2020, soon encountered a ministry opportunity among immigrant families in the area. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rev. Granillo and her team encountered immigrant neighbors looking for community, ESL classes and access to food for their families.

The Vecinos Community Center was created to “support new generations who are bicultural and bilingual to keep their feet on the ground as they embrace who they are and to excel in their new identity.” 

During Spring 2021, the ministry team decided to launch a summer camp as an experiment. While other agencies did host affordable summer camps, there were not enough slots for all.

With the success of connecting with families through the summer camp program, the team envisioned continuing with mentoring and nurturing emphasis as an after-school program. With an intended 15 students as of its Sept. 7 start, this allowed for excellent one-on-one time. Twenty volunteers showed-up for training and to run the program Monday through Thursday, 3 to 6 p.m.  

Vecinos after school program

The after-school program focuses on homework help, reading practice, mentorship and food.

Volunteers provide homework help, reading practice, mentorship and food. The Master Gardeners of Grayson County have helped with hands-on learning experiences outdoors. A retired college-level instructor has provided music lessons which prepare students for a Christmas performance. With the parent’s permission, students participate in a leadership-focused Bible study. Other enrichment activities include sports, art lessons and STEM labs led by 4H student leaders. 

Transportation from school to the Center to home is a major issue. Ideas are emerging for how to provide transportation, with local funders seeing great promise in the Center’s work.

Rev. Granillo notes that one of the best experiences of the Community Center’s development in the midst of COVID-19 has been “lots of empowerment and development of leaders besides pastor to run the effort. We got here and all these people showed up.  Clearly God is at work!”

Also, when a local nonprofit wasn’t able to provide snacks for the children, volunteers carried the plan ahead by feeding the children with about $15-20 dollars per day. 

Rev. Granillo offers this advice for others who want to start new outreach efforts.

“Do what you are good at and use your gifts to connect where you can,” she said. “I am a teacher, so I could relate well to the school district. I can build trust and invite people we’ve encountered and not bring aggressive agendas. We create an atmosphere to invite people.”

Parents requested ESL classes, so the Center is working with Grayson County College to create School for Parents: parenting classes featuring family communication, financial literacy, health and wellness, education and technology. This effort intends to help parents to envision sending their kids to college and break cycles of poverty and marginalization.

The Vision Team also has been surprised at how the mission of helping the marginalized, especially Latino immigrants, in Sherman has now broadened to people of all identities. One notable group has been Burmese language speakers. The search is ongoing for translation help to aid this development connection. One key practice that has been transformational has been a Bible study on The Armor of God in English and Spanish, which involves congregants with economically and ethnically diverse neighbors.

If you would like to contribute to the work of the Vecinos Community Center, you can do so here, please write  “Hispanic/Latino Ministry” in the note.

Published: Tuesday, October 19, 2021