Two Wise County Churches Band Together To Open New Preschool

Ribbon cutting

First UMC Boyd, Rhome UMC fill a need, providing child care (infants to four-years-old) in a 'childcare desert' in south Wise County

Laughter echoed through the halls at First United Methodist Church Boyd on Jan. 30 as 24 students arrived for opening day of the Wesley Early Learning Center (ELC). A cooperative ministry of Rhome UMC and First UMC Boyd, Wesley ELC is a new preschool for infants to four-year-olds situated in a childcare desert in south Wise County.

In May of 2022, Rev. Ricky Harrison established a cooperative ministry team of members from the two churches he pastors. Their charge was to explore ways they could intentionally and strategically serve their rapidly growing communities across south Wise County. “Out of this Spirit-led work, the vision for Wesley Early Learning Center was born,” Rev. Harrison said.

“Getting to think of ‘pie in the sky’ possibilities was exciting,” First UMC Boyd member Donna Garske said. “The general consensus of the group kept coming back to the idea of a learning center. My family has been in the Boyd area since 1993, and we’re very aware of the many needs in this community. I think probably the biggest deficit is the lack of childcare facilities, especially with the new growth this area is experiencing.”

Wesley ELC Director Kate Bosworth underscored this need, noting that the waitlist for childcare at all age levels in their area is approximately two years and the need has continued to grow. “There are a great number of working families who need childcare and a way to connect to their community. At the Wesley Early Learning Center, we aim to enrich the lives of the children and families we serve, as well as build lasting connections with the community,” Bosworth said.

For cooperative ministry team member and former preschool director and educator Elaine Priest, early childhood education is really about the whole family. The Rhome UMC member and lifelong Methodist has experience in both education and business and has seen how God prepared her for the roles she has played in helping families grow through strengthening literacy and early education.

“Working with families was a ministry from the beginning that I was prepared for over the long journey of my life. When you realize what you’ve been working on and the blessings you have gotten, you realize what you’ve been called to share,” Priest said.

Rev. Harrison, welcome area

Center for Church Development Director Rev. Dr. Owen Ross, Northwest District Superintendent Rev. Todd Harris assist Rev. Ricky Harrison with Communion.  The entry way to the new  Wesley Early Learning Center.

Priest, Garske and 10 others who make up the cooperative ministry team spent months having community conversations and raising funds from both congregations and beyond to make a significant impact outside the walls of their small congregations.

Garske was encouraged that this group of people with diverse backgrounds all felt the call to reach out to others around them, and she was gratified to see how quickly this all came together. “I think God has fast tracked this whole project. It seems like we had a vision and a plan came together in no time.” she said.

“As a pastor, it has been deeply inspiring to serve two congregations so naturally missionally focused and outward-facing,” Rev. Harrison said. “Their natural bent and gravitational pull from day one has been towards those outside our four walls”

The launch of Wesley ELC is the next iteration of the rich 250-year history of education in The United Methodist Church.

“As Methodists, our witness to the love of God is one of the main tenets of our faith,” Bosworth said. “What better way to witness to the unconditional love of God than to see God through the eyes of children. They are unwavering and unfailing in how they love and accept others, just as God loves us. Being planted in The United Methodist church allows Wesley ELC to bring that love to life through the children we serve.”

Wesley ELC offers full-time, three-day and two-day enrollment, with a school day from  8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and extended care before and after school, allowing families childcare coverage from 6:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The North Texas Conference, through the Center for Church Development and the Northwest District, issued a Challenge Grant to the Boyd and Rhome communities, offering a grant of $64,000 if they could raise $32,000. Between the two congregations and the surrounding community, they raised just over $36,000 and received the full grant from the NTC.

Additionally, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) awarded Wesley ELC a $44,000 grant as part of their effort to increase childcare and early childhood education in areas classified as “childcare deserts.” Wesley ELC has also been approved for an additional grant of $106,000 from TWC once they complete Licensing with Child Care Regulations. 

As Rev. Harrison celebrated Wesley ELC’s opening, he reflected on the bright future this represents for his two churches and their mission field. “I know this is simply the beginning of what God is doing among our United Methodist communities in south Wise County, and I am so very excited for us to learn and grow alongside these children as we work towards God's Kingdom together.”

Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2023