Ubuntu Day of Service: Their Hands Were Full
Their Hands Were Full
“Our hands are ready,” Harriett Jane Olson, Women’s Division top executive, said, as she sent forth 500 women to 17 nonprofit community organizations for United Methodist Women’s first Ubuntu Day of Service.
The day of service is named for the Zulu term ubuntu, which means I am human because you are human. In that spirit of solidarity, United Methodist Women members lived out their mission tradition of service with the local community ahead of Assembly, the quadrennial gathering of United Methodist Women. In addition to visiting local organizations, women assembled birthing kits for the United Methodist Committee on Relief and migrant hygiene kits to be sent to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Baden Community Garden
At Baden Community Garden, some women mowed tall grass on a sloping hill. Others weeded plots for flowers, green beans, watermelon and tomatoes to grow. Still others fired up weed whackers and cleaned the overgrown sidewalk.
United Methodist Women members were preparing this city garden for public school children who would come to learn about growing vegetables. The children’s visit to Baden might be their only opportunity to garden or taste vegetables fresh from the vine or earth.
“They have no idea how sweet and tender green beans are,” marveled Ernest Bradley, manager of this urban oasis.
Women seemed to enjoy the hard work. Barbara McFarquhar of Greater New Jersey Conference thought the day of service, which was a part of the greater gathering of Assembly, was a great idea.
“For many younger women, it’s easier to get them to do something than to sit at a meeting,” Ms. McFarquhar said.
Shelli Conrad from Arkansas agreed. “We enjoy getting out there and doing for others. You get to meet more people. Being able to work together to serve the community makes you feel great.”
Kingdom House was another urban center for United Methodist Women members to get their hands dirty. Some prepared a Peace Meal – making fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and brownies – for the community. Others played with children in the day care center.
“We couldn’t do what we do without volunteers,” said Geraldine Stewart, a social worker who oversees family support at Kingdom House. Ms. Stewart has seen the need at the food pantry grow from dozens of families per week to more than 150 families per week in the last several years.
Some of Kingdom House’s homeless clients visit the thrift store on rainy days to trade their wet clothing for something dry. “Because when you’re homeless you can’t carry a lot,” Ms. Stewart explained.
Kingdom House supports parents in the community, such as Keeva Gilmore, the mother of six children from the ages of 8 months to 15 years old. Ms. Gilmore watched her three youngest children play with United Methodist Women volunteers at Kingdom House’s day care. “Everyone is so kind and loving,” Ms. Gilmore said. Her children attend day care so that she can work towards her GED in the mornings.
When asked what Kingdom House means to her, Ms. Gilmore’s eyes teared up. She thinks Kingdom House is aptly named. “I guess they call it Kingdom House because it represents God,” Ms. Gilmore said.
Jennifer March, Kingdom House’s development director, greeted the neighbors alongside United Methodist Women members as the community joined in a feast at the Peace Meal with hugs. The mothers with children, like Ms. Gilmore, were invited to dine at the meal first.
Ms. March gave almost everyone a hug as they entered. She laughed, “You need hugs and smiles.”
Epworth Children and Family Services
Volunteers also visited Epworth Children and Family Services, one of United Methodist Women’s national mission institutions. Epworth is a place for children who have been written off to succeed and learn. Situated in the suburbs of Webster Grove outside of St. Louis, Epworth sets academic and therapeutic goals for each child.
Last year, 38 children were able to return to their homes and schools after meeting their individualized goals. Kent Robison, the head of the school, believes the children thrive at Epworth, in part, because of the therapists and skill-building services. Children between the ages of 7 and 17 learn life skills necessary to cope, like anger management and self-esteem.
“They come to understand that someone does care for them,” Mr. Robison said. “Someone does love them. What they do and what they are is not a bad person. We tell them they are going to be successful in life.”
United Methodist Women members who volunteered at Epworth played board games like Monopoly and Yahtzee with the kids. Like the women at the Baden Community Garden, they also weeded the grounds.
Women learned about the school’s strength-based philosophy. “No matter what a student does during the day – when they get on the bus to go home, we say, tomorrow’s another day,” Mr. Robison said.
United Methodist Women’s Assembly gets underway tomorrow in St. Louis. But the Ubuntu Day of Service will be remembered as a day when United Methodist Women members went out into the community – their hands ready and their hearts open. With those hands and hearts, the women pulled weeds, rolled the Monopoly dice, held stuffed animals, baked brownies and served Peace Meals. This sunny day in St. Louis was a day they won’t soon forget.
*Mary Beth Coudal is the staff writer of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.