By Annabelle Blair | Echo
"What we want is people's hearts to recognize the need and be willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus for a community that's seven miles away." - Thaddeus VanOverberghe, freshman
Three Taylor students recently founded Promise Prayer Cords (PPC), an outreach providing Christmas supplies to families in need at Southside Elementary School in Hartford City, Indiana.
The outreach partners with Southside's annual Christmas assistance drive to provide families with requested items such as clothing, winter coats, shoes and reasonably priced toys or games.
On Nov. 1, PPC was conceived. In 11 days, it became a Taylor-affiliated partnership, launched a website and hosted a bracelet-making event. Freshman Thaddeus VanOverberghe serves as PPC's director of public relations; sophomore Mallory Phillips as the liaison to Southside Elementary School; and freshman Noah Zaleskias director of finance.
Promise Prayer Cords are bracelets made of a white paracord tied in a simple knot with two single beads: purple to represent the Taylor community and red to represent a child at Southside Elementary School. The goal of the bracelets is twofold: raising money for basic Christmas needs while reminding the wearer to pray for a child in Blackford County-just seven miles from Taylor.
Blackford County's childhood poverty rate is 28.3 percent. This is 12.3 percent higher than the state rate. In 2016, over half of the children enrolled in Blackford County schools last year received free and reduced fee lunches, according to data from STATS Indiana: Indiana's Public Data Utility.
Phillips, an elementary education major, saw the need when she completed student classroom observations at Southside Elementary. Phillips noticed children with tattered clothes, shoes and coats and heard stories from the children about financially stressful conditions at home. "New shoes, to a little kid who doesn't have (anything), is just unbelievable," Phillips said.
Phillips and VanOverberghe quickly garnered support for PPC from Taylor students. VanOverberghe said the group of students felt convicted by the poverty so close to campus: "That night, (we) met in the Prayer Chapel to think and worship. The idea was birthed . . . bracelets."
On Nov. 3, PPC met with Southside's principal, Craig Campbell, and social worker Tricia Blakely, and the idea gained momentum. That same day, Phillips and VanOverberghe held back-to-back meetings with various leadership at Taylor to make their idea a reality. "One of the things from the get-go was this idea of expectancy to encounter the God we know," VanOverberghe said.
Although they received immediate support from Taylor leadership figures, PPC faced obstacles to sell bracelets on campus and partner with Taylor before the end of year-including lengthy paperwork and a process that wouldn't be finalized in time for Christmas.
Cindy Tyner, professor and chair of the education department, enabled PPC to circumvent conventional methods, operating through her authority within the education department. "I'm more of the gatekeeper for the money and the suggestions of how you should do things," Tyner said. "It's very worth my while, just to see it come together."
Tyner has been a significant ally for the project, enabling PPC to utilize a fundraising project account within the education department. This creates a non-binding support partnership of legal integrity and fraud protection between PPC and Taylor. It also allows PPC to claim Taylor's tax exempt status.
Tyner said she was impressed by the dedication the founders of PPC displayed. "The enthusiasm that came from them was unbelievable," she said. "But as time went on, they needed my backing, just to say this was a good idea, but I have shared with them some of the legal aspects . . . of working with a school."
Social worker Tricia Blakely said Southside Elementary has never partnered with a college education program in an outreach fashion. Blakely explained that many parents in Hartford City, although working or trying to find jobs, may have limited financial resources. Providing their children with Christmas gifts can be overwhelming, she said.
Blakely said the Christmas assistance forms were offered to all Southside Elementary students and their younger siblings. "They asked for help," she said of families who filled out the form, "and we are going to try to make sure that their student gets that help."
After family and friends donated the initial funds to buy supplies to make the bracelets, PPC hosted a campus bracelet-making event on Nov. 12. According to VanOverberghe, 30-40 volunteers showed up and helped string and tie bracelets in the LaRita Boren Campus Center.
PPC made 3,300 bracelets between 12:30 and 6 p.m., according to VanOverberghe. Although PPC could have spent more money to produce higher-quality bracelets, VanOverberghe said they specifically kept supplies cheap in order to put more money toward Southside students and their families.
PPC has received support from as far away as Colorado: a teacher received an email about the project and sent her mom to buy a bracelet, according to Phillips. PPC also partners with Trinity Church in Hartford City. Dustin Jones, lead pastor at Trinity, has supported PPC's mission by spreading word of their ministry to other pastors in the area, Phillips said.
Tyner said Philipps and her co-founders have opened the Taylor community's eyes to see and care about the needs around them. "I'm hopeful that this would go on for years to come, because the need is going to be there," she said.
To purchase a bracelet, visit TaylorForKids.com