Next year, Camas United Methodist Church will participate in a program that will provide after-school and day camp activities for children in kindergarten through the sixth grade.
Jan Carter, the business administrator at CUMC, will serve as the Camas site liaison for Project Transformation. That will involve overseeing the interns, site coordinator, house pastor and volunteers.
She and her husband, Gary, were involved with the national literacy program in Texas, before they moved to Camas.
“I laughed, loved and formed a bond with 100-plus community kids,” Jan said. “They brought love and a community spirit to our church like none other. I was a part of Project Transformation in that church for three years and loved every minute of it.”
The goal of the eight-week program is to close the reading gap for children who need extra help.
After CUMC Pastor Richenda Fairhurst heard about Project Transformation from the Carters, she thought it should be implemented in the Pacific Northwest.
Fairhurst and several other people from the congregation read to first graders at Helen Baller Elementary School, on Wednesday mornings.
“It is one of the best parts of my week,” Fairhurst said. “We want to get to know the kids and educators better, and we really want to see this program succeed and help our Camas and Washougal kids who need it.”
Fairhurst said Project Transformation addresses the needs of children who — because of tough family circumstances — are struggling to read.
“We know that kids who are not reading by elementary school are going to have real trouble in life,” she said. “We believe every kid deserves a chance to succeed. Literacy is crucial to success in life.”
Fairhurst said the program will help children who qualify for free or reduced price lunch and are not reading at grade level.
“Many kids from low-income families struggle with the things the rest of us take for granted,” she said. “As a result, test scores are measurably different for this group.
“With reading help, meal support and positive encouragement, Project Transformation seeks to close the reading and achievement gap that exists for many low-income kids,” Fairhurst added.
She credits the Camas School District for identifying early, the children who need help with reading. She anticipates children from Camas and Washougal will be enrolled in the summer program, which will include meals served on site and food sent home for the weekend.
During a week-long visit in July to the Project Transformation national office in Dallas, Fairhurst read to children and saw the program first-hand.
It has existed for 17 years in Texas, and has chapters in Tennessee and Oklahoma as well.
Project Transformation is designed to provide leadership development and ministry exploration opportunities for college-age individuals through summer and one-year service internships.
“The interns are from all over the country,” said Rachel Neer, executive director of the Pacific Northwest chapter. “Some will be hired locally. Others will come from other places with varying levels of experience in working with Project Transformation.”
Neer said the program will be held Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., June 26 through Aug. 17, at Camas United Methodist. It will be held at the same time and dates at Orchards United Methodist Church and Vancouver First United Methodist Church.
Children will be chosen to participate, based on recommendations from their teachers and school counselors and administrators.
Parents will need to submit an application. They will be available in March, and the deadline to apply will be at the end of May.
Fifty children will participate at each site.
Neer, a deacon at Vancouver First United Methodist Church, served as a Project Transformation intern for several years in Texas and Oklahoma.
She said Project Transformation volunteers will be screened.
“We try to know about as many ahead of time as we can,” Neer said. “None of the volunteers will ever be alone with children. There will always be a Safe Church trained intern responsible for the children.”
Safe Church is the United Methodist Church’s policy written to protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults in the community.
The volunteers with the reading program at Helen Baller must also successfully complete background checks.
Donations of books for Project Transformation are accepted at Camas United Methodist Church, 706 N.E. 14th Ave.
“I am hoping our book drive will reach parents who are adding books to their own kids’ libraries this Christmas, and I am hoping they might donate the ones their kids have outgrown to us so we can help others,” Fairhurst said.
Questions about Project Transformation sponsorship and volunteer opportunities can be directed to Neer, at 693-5881 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.projecttransformation.org or www.camaschurch.org/childrens-book-drive.