Flashing school zone lights and yellow school buses are a good indication summer has come to a close. For many students, the end of summer means last-minute trips to buy school supplies, but for teachers, it means rushing to finish organizing and decorating their rooms before the students arrive.
The excitement and rush to be prepared for school this year for Briarwood Elementary School teachers is found within the halls of Oklahoma City, Emmaus, which is hosting classes during the 2013-2014 year. Plans to use the building began days after the devastating May 20 tornado, during which Briarwood was destroyed.
When Associate Pastor Jim Lehew volunteered his church’s help, God opened a door of opportunities for the congregation to reach out to the community.
“From day one, our congregation has stepped up and desired to be the church the community needs as much as we could,” Lehew said. “Anything we asked of them, they have been overly supportive. When we began talking about hosting Briarwood, we brought it before the church to vote on, and one of our deacons said, ‘It will be a greater tragedy than the tornado if we don’t step up and do this for the school.’ That displays the heart of our church.”
Not only did the congregation rise up to minister to the Moore community, but Emmaus also has hosted several groups of disaster relief volunteers from various parts of the country.
Joy Bernhard and Karyn Calderone began collecting school supplies in June to distribute to teachers in the Moore and South Oklahoma City areas.
“On a whim, I put up signs around our school to ask for donations for teachers,” Bernhard said.
She had intended to fill up her husband’s truck with the donations. However, the teachers from Centertownship Elementary in Butler, Pa. had enough supplies to fill four pallets, which weighed about 1,600 pounds. With the help of Brother’s Brother Foundation, the supplies from Pennsylvania, along with eight pallets from a Cub Scout troop in Virginia traveled to Oklahoma.
“The best reward was hearing teachers exclaim, ‘I used to have this!’ as they rummaged through the boxes of supplies,” Calderone said. “I told them, ‘Just say it again, just say it again!’ It was really something to see and hear how grateful they were.”
The church has undergone a transformation as it has remodeled its facility into a school, from converting its multi-purpose chapel into a physical education classroom and individual Sunday School rooms into classrooms. Briarwood Elementary will start classes Aug. 16.
New things are also being donated for the children. Kaboom, a nonprofit organization committed to building playgrounds around the nation, partnered with Nike for funding, and has agreed to build five playgrounds in the Moore area. This will include one playground for each new elementary school, and one at the Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children campus in Oklahoma City, which is conveniently located behind Emmaus, and will be available to be used by the Briarwood students this school year.
“It will be built in one day on Sept. 7,” Lehew said. “There will be about 200 volunteers come to help complete the playground.“
God was at work in the little details at Oklahoma City, Emmaus leading up its preparation of being used for an elementary school.
“There were little things that occurred even before the storm that, looking back, you can tell God was at work,” Lehew said. “Things like the city putting a traffic light in front of our church and widening both lanes of Western Ave. There was a greater purpose in all of that.
“What the families and teachers need now more than ever is prayer. The staff and faculty have been going 100 mph since May 20. The greatest thing we can do for them is to pray.”