Preparing for its second summer of ministry, Project Transformation Tennessee is expanding its reach by starting more programs for underserved children and hiring additional college-age interns.The United Methodist-related nonprofit organization is hiring 32 interns, up from 25 last summer, and readying five program sites, up from three in 2012. All five programs will be hosted by United Methodist churches located in underserved neighborhoods in Nashville.
“God’s movement is apparent,” says Courtney Aldrich, executive director. “We are thankful for God’s blessings during our first year and grateful to the conference for rallying around this new vision for ministry as we work to be faithful to God’s call and timing.”
During its inaugural summer, 222 children and youth participated in the free eight-week day programs at 61st Avenue UMC in West Nashville, and Tulip Street UMC and Nancy Webb Kelly UMC in East Nashville. This year, in addition to those locations, Project Transformation will serve through new programs at Antioch UMC in South Nashville and Barth Vernon UMC in West Nashville.
“We’re planting strategically,” Aldrich says, “and developing programs throughout Middle Tennessee to connect with diverse communities where we have existing churches and community leaders who identify a significant need for summer enrichment opportunities for neighborhood children and youth.”
Literacy remains a key component of Project Transformation’s summer programming for kids. Last summer, participants read more than 4,000 books and, based on reading assessments, 100 percent either improved or maintained their reading levels throughout the summer.
Equally important is Project Transformation’s focus on developing its interns as Christian leaders and enabling the young adults to explore ministry opportunities.
Once again, the interns will live in Christian community on the campus of Belmont University and commute daily to program sites. They will learn about ministry opportunities through weekly outings and guest speakers.
“Through Project Transformation, I came away with new priorities, a new outlook and a new understanding of what God’s call on my life looks like,” says Morgan Stafford, 21, a member of Erin UMC and a senior at Belmont University
Working last summer at PT’s program site at 61st Avenue UMC, Stafford discerned that his call to ministry includes working with young people. He is now a part-time youth director at Antioch UMC, where he will serve as PT site coordinator this summer.
Stafford describes his first PT summer as personally transformational, which he defines as seeking “more of God, and less of me.”
“Before PT started, I had expected that after a great summer experience, I would return to my previous life as normal. But what I found on the other side of the summer looked very different than I expected. Project Transformation served as the first step of this amazing journey I’m on.”
Victoria Bynum, 20, an accounting major at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., had “really struggled” with how God could use her gifts in finance and administration, but got a glimpse last summer during numerous PT outings, including one tour of the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration, the denomination’s Nashville-based financial and administrative services hub. “I saw how God can use you in ways you never imagined,” she says.
While such outings were enlightening, Bynum says the best part of Project Transformation was working with the children at program sites. “The kids are the driving force to get you up in the morning. They gave me a reason to love and to show love in big ways,” recalls Bynum, who will return to Nashville this summer to serve as site coordinator at 61st Avenue UMC.
The 2013 interns are scheduled to arrive on Belmont’s campus on May 25 and begin seven days of orientation and training. Programs for children and youth begin on June 3.
A third crucial component of Project Transformation is involvement of local churches. The church-based summer programs help the host churches to connect better with children and families in their neighborhoods, and also provide daily ministry opportunities for other partner churches in Middle Tennessee and beyond.
With this summer’s expansion, the need for local church and community support is expanding too.
“We need partner churches that can provide meals for our interns each evening, healthy snacks for our children and youth, and daily reading volunteers for our literacy program, as well as financial support of our program,” Aldrich says.
Last summer, 550 volunteers from 27 partner churches and 41 community organizations supported PT’s ministry, including providing Christian hospitality to interns through home-cooked meals, reading with children, and hosting ministry exploration outings.
Originally printed in the April Issue of The Connector, Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church.