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Talented church pools gifts to bless school

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At their afternoon service on June 6, the Pool – an MB congregation in Moncton, N.B. – celebrated the most ambitious project of their 11-year history. Just days before, they completed Express, a multi-disciplinary after-school arts program in cooperation with a local middle school. Pool member Ryan Hitchcock captured the overall sentiment: “There were a lot of smiles.”

Administration at Edith Cavell School – an inner-city Moncton school with one of the highest levels of transition in the city, and many students from low-income, non-traditional, or immigrant homes – selected Grade 5–8 students who could receive the greatest benefit from ongoing mentorship in an artistic environment. For the first six weeks, volunteers from the Pool introduced participants to six performance streams: theatre, dance, videography, culinary arts, photography, and construction arts. In the remaining six weeks, students specialized and prepared for a final show.

A pre-program, Intermission, allowed students to participate in physical activity, do homework, and expand their palates with unique snacks. “At first they resisted [new foods],” says Debie Mealey, who oversaw Intermission and was the overall program liaison with the school, “but eventually, they learned to risk.”

Over the 12 weeks, the students learned artistic skills, developed deep bonds with their peers and mentors, and discovered self-confidence. Thomas Sudbury, a high school teacher and director of Express videography says, “The kids came to realize they could do a lot more than they thought they could.”

Edith Cavell teacher Ashley Radtke, who observed the students closely through the year, agrees. “They got to experience each other in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise. They grew in ways they didn’t even realize.”

How it began

“We really wanted to do a project that involved everybody using their gifts,” says Pool leader, Greg Lawson, about the genesis of Express. In a corporate prayer service, the suggestion came up to reach out to Edith Cavell School.

“God was leading us to reach out to kids who desperately needed adults in their lives, mentors who would demonstrate care,” says the Pool’s pastor, Scott Mealey. “We felt the strong artistic background of many of our community members might allow us a natural connection with both the school and the students.”

The principal and vice-principal responded enthusiastically when approached last February. Offered a featured spot in a school assembly, “We knew we had to get it right,” says Scott Mealey. The Pool’s creative team showed students a multimedia presentation explaining the twice-weekly program.

Administration and staff were shocked by the response. Nearly half of all the students applied for the 20 available spots – at a school that historically struggled to begin and maintain extracurricular activities. But after seeing the presentation, Radtke felt this time would be different. “This time [the kids] were chosen,” she says. “It would be something special to be a part of – something very few of them have.”

On June 4, more than 90 family members, friends, and faculty came out for the students’ presentation of “Friends & Neighbours.” The show featured original sketches, choreography, and video documentaries in addition to delicious food and free photography sessions for attending families.

“I couldn’t have imagined anything better,” says Edith Cavell principal Craig Hutchings.

“[That night] made it all worthwhile,” says mentor Sarah MacKenzie, “In the beginning, there were a lot of sad faces on those kids, but on that night, I saw a lot of joy.”

In addition to mentors for the program, the Pool community provided sets, props, and costumes; full technical support; and rounded out the drama and food for the evening. More than 90 percent of those who attend the Pool were involved in the project. Choreographer Laura Archibald found herself “surprised not only with the way God worked in the lives of the kids but how he touched the lives of the church community as well.”

“Beyond the impact we were able to have on the kids,” says Scott Mealey, “we are consistently discovering new ways that this project has helped us grow.”

“We have really discovered what God can do when we use our gifts collaboratively,” says Lawson.

Scott Mealey is pastor at the Pool, Moncton, New Brunswick.

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