Episcopal Life Convention Daily
Friday, 7 July 2000  

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Partners hope to meet kids' emotional needs

Just over a year ago, 12 students and a teacher were killed in a massive shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, within 20 miles of the Colorado Convention Center. The two shooters also died.

A year later, officials of Kids Hope USA, an ecumenical organization that involves partnerships between parish and neighboring schools working with at-risk students, met with church officials and visitors here July 6 and will meet again today, to encourage local churches to become more involved in keeping children safe.

Beginning in 1995 with three church-school partnerships, Kids Hope USA officials say the program has now spread to 18 states in 112 congregations. Working primarily with elementary school students, a trained adult volunteer mentors in a one-on-one relationship, for at least two years, along with a prayer partner, to meet the emotional and social needs of students.

"Part of our role [at Kids Hope USA] is to give the church the capacity to help the local church prevent future outbreaks such as Columbine,'' said Virgil Gulker, executive director. He said the church could make the greatest impact by forming one-on-one relationships with young children. "High school is too late,'' he said. "Middle school is speculative.''

The Rev. Bob Davidson, rector of Trinity Church, Greeley, started a partnership with Monfort Elementary School last fall. As a mentor himself, he says he has seen dramatic changes in the children who participate in the program. "They are more confident, more trusting andmore open,'' said Davidson. He also agrees that it is crucial to work with children at an early age. "It's critical to get to children at a young age because when they are older they tend to be more hardened to relationships like this ... Now they are more emotionally ready to have someone come into their lives.''

Because school officials continue to seek information about the program, which includes finding a church to work in every elementary school, Gulker is confident that Kids Hope USA will continue to have a significant impact on the lives of many children.

"This program is a tested and proven means to influence the lives of at-risk children and to give the local church a presence and influence in its own neighborhood,'' said Gulker. "Hundreds of mentors are touching and changing the lives of children with whom they build a relationship.''

Marie Panton is editorial assistant for Episcopal Life.

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