We’re excited to welcome back Jennifer Neutel as our OACS Community Journalist for the 2017/18 school year. Jennifer worked with the News Service between 2007 and 2012, bringing her expertise and experience as a journalist to our stories. Since then, Jennifer has continued to write professional articles, and is a regular contributor to publications such as the Christian Courier.
Students from JK to Grade 8 at Heritage Community Christian School (HCCS) have been invited to live one of Jesus’ parables in support of their school. Each received $10 before summer break with the task to live out the Bible story of the Parable of the Talents to creatively grow the money by using their talents.
School program director Gwyneth Zylstra visited the classrooms in June to share this concept with the students, and related it to the work of God’s Kingdom.
“God blesses us with things and we have the opportunity to take those treasures and invest them wisely using the gifts and talents and resources that He’s provided us,” she said.
The response was both excitement about receiving the money and some thoughtful questions—including what would happen if their investment didn’t succeed—showing that the students took the assignment seriously.
Sharing how to live abundantly using what God has given us to give back to Him and the community has been a positive experience, Mrs. Zylstra said. Young and old students alike found the task exciting and inspiring, in fact some students who knew they wouldn’t be returning to the school in September asked to still participate.
The idea came from principal Jennifer Feenstra, who learned about the Parable of the Talents fundraiser at this past spring’s OCSAA conference where she heard about the experience of another Christian school that ran a similar event over a two week period.
Located in the village of New Dublin, close to the small town of Athens, HCCS is a small, rural school with about 78 students. The Parable of the Talents is one of several ways HCCS is raising funds to renovate its building to accommodate increasing enrollment and their need for more office space. The school has plans to build a new entrance and office with a two-storey tower that will improve curb appeal.
Part of the design is to have the new tower look like a castle from the outside with the hope that the school will be more appealing and fun to young students. The castle exterior will also set HCCS apart from the modern public schools in the area and ties into the school’s name—Heritage—as well as Psalm 46: “A mighty fortress is our God.” The school is even considering a drawbridge-themed ramp that will meet new regulations. The new entrance will improve security and accessibility, noted development director Amy Buzzell.
“We take our kids to fun places like Disney World and Great Wolf Lodge, why do we want to send them to a school that looks boring? Let’s make it fun and exciting,” Mrs. Buzzell said.
Five HCCS teachers attended workshops at Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, in May and returned inspired and impressed. The middle school has a dramatic exterior and interior-themed classrooms. HCCS is exploring ways to redesign classrooms so students are comfortable and equipped to learn. Over the summer one classroom was redesigned with a Canadian theme, complete with wagons, paddles, and hockey sticks for the coat hooks.
Another reason there is a need for more space is a pilot high school project that was launched this fall. Because there is no Christian high school in the area, some HCCS graduates are taking high school courses online. Several parents asked HCCS to provide a space for the students to do their school work on-site, which has led to six students in the “Heritage High” pilot project which includes a full-time educator with academic, spiritual and emotional student development built in.
With the task to help raise money for the school to make these renovations, students chose a variety of activities to turn their $10 into more for the school. They also had the option to partner with one another to increase the amount of money they had to invest—turning the exercise into a community-building activity. The spirit of the project was for the children to be do the work, making the value of the project something they would benefit from.
Throughout the summer months, parents heard through social media what other families were doing for the project. The families already have a lot of connection with one another, Mrs. Zylstra said, noting for a school that doesn’t have that closeness, this project has the potential to encourage it among school families.
Grade 7 student Andrew said the Bible story inspired him to want to multiply the money. He made chocolate chip cookies and sold them at an egg stand outside his home. It took about two weeks to bake all the cookies—which he sold for $5 per dozen—and in the end meant that he made about $200 for the school.
“Some of our neighbours came and they said they wanted more because they were really good,” he said.
There were unexpected blessings as well. Living in the country where neighbours don’t always naturally see one another, Andrew and his mother took the cookies to some neighbours, which helped them to reconnect with an elderly neighbour who they had been wanting to see.
Malina, a Grade 6 student, said “at first it seemed like a bit of a challenge but then we actually made a lot of money from it.” She, with her three siblings and grandparents, used her money to host a bake sale and lemonade stand in Guelph.
With some rainy and windy weather, Malina said they didn’t get a lot of customers, but the ones who did stop donated more than they bought. When asked why she thinks they were so generous, Malina says, “I think they felt bad for us for doing it in the rain.”
Senior kindergarten student Isaac said he and his mother decided to sell jam for the school. “We cut strawberries, squished them, put them on the stove with sugar, then put the jam in jars,” Isaac said. Other students attended Cornfest, a large annual event in Athens, and sold pop and popsicles. Car washes, selling painted rocks, and offering manicures are a few more examples of the creative fundraising possibilities that were explored by students.
“There was a renewed sense of community,” Mrs. Zylstra said. “It brought our students out visibly into the community and they had conversations they otherwise wouldn’t have had.”
Mrs. Zylstra, whose children attend HCCS, says from a personal perspective it was exciting for her children to live out a scriptural principle.
“It was new and exciting and it wasn’t fundraising based on chocolate or magazines or pizzas, it was so focused very specifically on living out what we are called to do in scripture,” she said. And she noticed that both students and parents felt some surprise that the school was entrusting this money to each student.
“There’s tremendous value in handing a five-year-old 10 bucks and saying, ‘this is yours, we trust you, we believe in you, this is your treasure —your talent— to invest,’ and give them the opportunity to learn what you can buy with $10 and how you can turn that into more dollars,” she said.
“We do need to take risks for the Kingdom; we are not supposed to operate out of a space of scarcity; we are supposed to be coming at it with the thought that He will provide and therefore there is abundance.”
The Parable of the Talents fundraiser allowed children to have ownership and feel part of the expansion project. As an independent school, the fundraiser was also a way to engage and receive support from the broader community. In one example, two families ran a combined bake and yard sale and advertised extensively, which spread the financial support for the school wider than the traditional base of supporters, Mrs. Zylstra said.
As the autumn crops are beginning to be harvested around HCCS, the money raised is also being collected—offering a harvest of talents from the school that demonstrates God’s abundance in the community and the creativity of the school’s students.
“It was a great way for the kids to tell the story as well, and explain where they go to school and what they were doing it for, and people love to support that,” Mrs. Buzzell said. “They can be proud of themselves for participating in it and coming up with unique and creative ideas as to what they wanted to do over the summer.”