The members of Kilbourne United Methodist Church know that in small, rural towns, local churches must be a resource and a haven for those in poverty. Sometimes, they are the only places for people to turn.
In response to the great need in the community, Kilbourne UMC sponsors an after-school group for teens attending Kilbourne High School. This particular group of youth, ranging in age from 13-15, come from unstable homes, with many of them in the care of a grandparent. “Two of the boys do have both mother and father in the home, but the parents change jobs frequently, creating financial issues for the families,” said Rev. Curtis Carroll, pastor of Kilbourne UMC.
The ministry is the brain-child of Lori Horn and Jonna Harper, members of this church which is located on the northeastern border of Louisiana. Horn is a school teacher and Harper works as an occupational therapist across the state line in Arkansas with special needs students. Horn, left, and Harper are pictured above with Rev. Carroll.
Through their work in the schools, the two women identified this group of students and “took them under the wing of the church,” said Carroll. “Poverty anywhere is crushing. But in rural areas, residents are less likely to find programs for kids to tap into. Families are more isolated, school districts are shrinking and dollars are shrinking.”
This life-affirming program provides help for the teens in a number of ways. “The young men meet every Thursday after school. They are fed, and have conversation and Bible study. They are invited to church dinners and functions and provided gifts at Christmas. We have taken them to the Monroe zoo and the Greek Orthodox church in Vicksburg, exposing them to opportunities that they might not have received, otherwise,” said Horn.
The amazing thing about the ministry and its outcomes is that the youth are now truly part of Kilbourne UMC and its ministry. “One of the kids came through our confirmation class. They helped out with the community Thanksgiving service held at Kilbourne UMC, greeting folks and serving sandwiches. They want to be part of the group and to know that they are making a difference,” said Harper.
The young people always show up for work days at the church, sweeping and helping with gardening. When the church was having some financial struggles, the teens put on a gumbo and doughnut sale to help raise funds. “We were all incredibly moved. These kids have no means of their own, yet they reached out to help us when we needed it,” said Carroll. “They understand as well as the average church member that if we don’t step up to the plate, it doesn’t happen.”
Kilbourne UMC and its volunteers know that to make a difference in the community, their commitment must be year-round and not just once or twice a year. “It is fine to get a turkey at Christmas, but these kids are going hungry in January, February and March. And by developing these relationships, the kids benefit, but we are the real winners,” said Carroll.