By Rufus Woods | The Wenatchee World

A wonderful collaboration has developed between First United Methodist Church in Wenatchee and Columbia Elementary in Wenatchee. The mentoring, volunteering and financial support is creating a special relationship that is meaningful for students, teachers and members of the congregation.

I had the opportunity recently to sit down with Principal Si Stuber, Tyler Russell, a member of the school’s parent-teacher association, and Tracy Faulkner, who does community outreach for the church. We recorded the conversation for my podcast, which can be found via iTunes or by accessing

The church and the school have always had a relationship, but when pastors John and Joanne Coleman Campbell came to town three years ago, the church shifted from supporting several ministries to focusing primarily on building relationships and support for the students and teachers at the school, Faulkner told me.

Columbia has its share of challenges. It has the highest poverty rate among elementary schools in the district and parent support had been lacking until Tyler and Jessica Russell helped re-launch the parent-teacher organization.

What was heavy lifting for a small number of parents that first year has blossomed with a growing volunteer base and some wonderful activities that support regular movie nights that pack in parents and families to the gymnasium, a math night and other special events.

This year, the PTO raised enough money to provide $100 for each teacher for classroom needs, and the church matched the dollars.

At the church’s Christmas Eve service, the offering was earmarked for the school and it paid for an upgraded sound system for the gymnasium and a projector for the lunchroom.

Faulkner said the partnership has energized the congregation and as the volunteer efforts have been announced, a growing number of people are stepping up and helping out.

Members of the congregation have taken to calling the students “our kids.”

Faulkner recalled one man who helped out with vision and hearing screening and helped calm a young lad who was afraid to go into the darkened room. He had been leery of volunteering before that, but now he’s a regular lunch buddy.

Columbia is the only school in the district that serves the immediate area exclusively. None of the kids arrive on buses. It’s a neighborhood school.

Stuber, who is in his second year as principal, said this kind of support provides significant encouragement to the staff. The relationship with First United Methodist Church has “paved the way for others to get involved,” Stuber said. He senses a movement being created.

The activities that the parent-teacher organization supports are helping create an atmosphere where the school is a place where kids and parents enjoy going.

Russell said he would love to see other churches adopt a school near where they worship and build these kinds of relationships. The schools “could all use the volunteers.” And when a volunteer can make a connection with a kid, “it can change the whole complexion of their day and maybe of their life,” he added.

It says something important that Russell and his wife Jessica, who own Tumbleweed Bead Co., moved into the neighborhood and chose to send their kids to the neighborhood school rather than shopping around. The philosophy they’ve adopted is to “bloom where you grow.”

It’s heartening to see these kinds of efforts in our valley. Russell points out, correctly, that this is happening in every community in North Central Washington. The extent to which we give of our time to make the community stronger, we all benefit.

There is nothing greater than helping kids with our care, compassion and attention.

Rufus Woods is the publisher and chairman for The Wenatchee World. This article is reposted with his permission.

The Art of Community Project is dedicated to fostering creative community building in North Central Washington. See all of the stories, podcasts and photos at

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