Midtown: Community

Midtown Muse: Southeast Raleigh church helps Fuller Elementary School

Answering a curbside-banner invitation, a new family showed up for summer Vacation Bible School at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church. A few weeks later, that same family, whose children attend nearby Fuller Elementary School, rolled up their sleeves alongside church members to help beautify the school grounds.

It’s a model scenario of One Church One School, a pioneer partnership the Southeast Raleigh church has forged with Fuller as a bridge between the community and its congregation.

“It’s the kind of thing we want to continue – really engaging the community in a way that we’re able to connect with the community and connect with the school, and also get the community itself involved in working with the school,” said Quisha Mallette, who leads the ministry. “It was nice to see that evolution.”

This week, the church is planning its second annual donation of full-meal Thanksgiving boxes for Fuller families. Parishioners also are ready to repeat the Adopt-a-Student Angel Tree to make Christmas more special for families.

But One Church One School uniquely extends beyond helping for the holidays.

“I came to St. Ambrose as an evangelist and missionary,” said the Rev. Jemonde Taylor, who became the 11th rector at St. Ambrose in September 2012. “That’s part of my fabric, always looking externally, always looking outside our doors.”

Consider neighbors to St. Ambrose: Fuller Elementary shares its driveway. Carnage Middle School sits across its backyard wetlands. Within a short walk are the state’s women’s prison and the Walnut Creek Urban Wetlands center, anchor to 49 acres of educational wetlands.

“God has placed us here, not to be a commuter church, but to be a place of impact and community transformation in all of those areas,” Taylor said. “One of the first places that made sense was Fuller Elementary.”

Using the first rule of community organizing, Taylor said, the church asked the school, “What do you need?”

“I almost didn’t know what to say,” Fuller principal Cheryl Holland Fenner said of her surprise. “You can’t ask for anything better than for an organization with a true heart to serve to reach out to your school.

“The needs are so vast.”

One Church One School launched on Palm Sunday in March 2013 with a procession from a tree atop a hill in the school driveway. Taylor now calls the spot the Mount of Olives, the mountain top Jesus descended into Jerusalem.

Since then, St. Ambrose has helped sponsor an educational fifth-grade field trip to Washington, D.C.; led two campus beautification projects – from painting the cafeteria to landscaping; delivered a teacher-appreciation breakfast; and donated money to buy books for classroom libraries.

Last year, the church fed six families at Thanksgiving and wrapped 30 Christmas gifts for six Fuller students.

In all, St. Ambrose parishioners have logged a total of 250 volunteer hours. That also includes youth volunteers on Teacher Work Days, chaperones for Fuller Walk Club treks and longtime parishioner James Revis, who mentors a student.

St. Ambrose receives, too. Fenner was a guest speaker for Education Day at St. Ambrose, and a classroom gifted origami art to Taylor in appreciation. Taylor re-gifted the art to sick and shut-in parishioners.

“Jesus constantly met people where they were and walked with them,” Taylor said. “We need to mimic him. By walking beside people, we can experience or witness their transformation and allow ourselves to be changed.”

Even so, Fenner believes it’s important to say now and out loud, in the spirit of thanksgiving: “It’s been awesome. We’re so grateful.”

The partnership is special to Fenner. Not only did she grow up nearby, but many of her young charges are the children of her own friends.

“I’m invested in this community and in Fuller Elementary, so it just really makes me feel extra good,” Fenner said. “It’s very good to see the two come together.”