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Human Relations Sunday offering touches lives

 


Human Relations Sunday offering touches lives

Jan. 12, 2005

By Susan Passi-Klaus*

How far will a dollar go? Not very when it comes to acquiring high-tech gadgets and designer clothing. But a dollar in the hands of volunteers buying tennis shoes and school supplies for jail-bound teenagers can literally change lives.

In some cases, those dollars even save lives. Marilyn Higgins of Milwaukee saw that firsthand in the aftermath of a suicide at a local elementary school.

Higgins is a community developer at Solomon Community Temple United Methodist Church in Milwaukee. She is a pro at stretching dollars into life-changing deeds. Her ministry is one that will benefit when United Methodists put extra offerings in the plate on Jan. 16, Human Relations Sunday.

Human Relations Sunday gifts let Higgins do "little things for the kids in our community. We can give them deodorant and toothpaste so they’re not embarrassed in school. We can feed them the only hot meal they may get in a day. And we can pay for ACT tests they need to take to get into college."

But they also let Higgins and her colleagues address some big problems.

From her church office in Milwaukee’s inner city, Higgins can watch as workers piece together a much-needed addition at the local elementary school. Until construction began a few months ago, she could see to the rooftop of the old brick school building. She will always remember the day a well-liked sixth grade boy climbed two stories to the top of Martin Luther King Elementary, ignored pleas to come down, spread his arms and then fell to his death.

When his small body hit the tarred playground outside a classroom window, students inside heard the impact.

"When we went over to the school to see what the kids needed, we found tears everywhere," Higgins said. "Nobody had an answer to why this sweet 12-year-old would take his own life."

In the following weeks, Higgins mobilized volunteers and mental health professionals to provide counseling and comfort to the students. One of those caregivers was Julia Means, a nurse at Columbia-St. Mary’s Hospital.

"In the face of death these kids needed to know they were significant and that their feelings mattered," Means said.

Means and Higgins spent most of their time holding crying children in their arms. As they wiped away tears and heard several other students admit that they, too, had considered suicide. With hands held and arms entwined the two women walked three vulnerable fifth-graders to the office of a school counselor. It didn’t take long for secret hurts and family traumas to emerge.

Within days of the intervention, nurse Means was walking down the school hallway when she heard "a small voice" say, "Thank you, Ms. Means." It was one of the young girls who had earlier confessed to wanting to take her own life.

"If we hadn’t been here," said Higgins, referring to the Community Development Program at Solomon, "those little girls who had been thinking about suicide may not have changed their minds. Yes, we may have lost one student that week, but we saved three."

Sunday, Jan. 16, is the official date for the denomination-wide observance of Human Relations Sunday. However, local churches may receive the offering on another day of their choosing.

One of six Special Sundays with Offerings observed across the United Methodist Church, money United Methodists give on Human Relations Sunday supports the ministries of community developers and United Methodist Voluntary Service, programs of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, and youth offender rehabilitation programs coordinated by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

Every offering can make a difference for ministries such as the Community Development Program and many others that might receive little attention but have significant impact.

"Sometimes the people sitting in pews aren’t really educated about what we do here," Higgins said. "They don’t understand that in our communities, dollars save lives."

*Passi-Klaus is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn., and publisher of Cracked Pots, an inspirational newsletter for women.

News media contact: Kathy Noble, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5441 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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