“I really wanted my school to be a community school, and it’s turning into that with this partnership,” said Principal Erica Edwards, Warford Elementary, Hickman Mills C-1 School District. “We have community members who are very invested in our kids and what’s happening here at the school. They want to see our goals come to fruition and do their best for the kids.”

To meet their attendance goal, Warford’s church partners, Grace Point Baptist Church and IHOPKC, take turns each month to donate 12 gift cards to incentivize students at each grade level. Staff support has included lunch from Chick-fil-A and snacks. All partners, including J.E. Dunn, Wayside Waifs, and the PTA, plan to support staff during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Principal Edwards attributes the relationships built between the partners and the school as well as their intentional mentoring program to the success of their partnership. More than 20 mentors and mentees were matched during their Mentorship Match Night in October, where activities paired them and allowed them to get to know one another. Grace Point, IHOPKC and Minding the Gap took part and have mentors who visit their mentees once a week to play games, read books, do activities or work on classwork. On March 10, J.E. Dunn’s BUILD (Blacks United in Learning and Development) began a two-month leadership mentoring program, where they work weekly on architectural themes and lessons with a 2nd grade class.

“When I hear my students ask, ‘Is my mentor coming today?’ that lets me know we are having an impact,” said Principal Edwards. “They know they are having extra adults giving them love and attention that they need.”

With a passion for students to improve reading proficiency, Zack Nicholson, IHOPKC Outreach Pastor, last year founded and launched Minding the Gap, a nonprofit designed to bridge academic and emotional gaps in the lives of children. “We do this by teaching reading skills, developing self-esteem, and cultivating relationships with caring adults,” he said. “With the academic gap, we focus on tutoring/mentoring.” This can include reading, working on sight words, activities or playing games. “We really want to build relationships and trust with these children,” he added.

To build self-esteem, Minding the Gap offers an after-school Bible program called the 180 Club. A graphic novel-like Action Bible forms the basis of its curriculum, with each student receiving their own Bible and monthly memory verses. Currently, about 25 students attend 180 Club at Warford.

Minding the Gap also serves Compass Elementary in Hickman Mills with tutoring/mentoring and the 180 Club. Pastor Nicholson hopes to serve 4 to 5 schools by next fall, focusing on schools in the Hickman Mills and Grandview School Districts. In all, about 80 volunteers have served through Minding the Gap’s programs, including volunteers from IHOPKC, Grace Point Baptist Church, and Youth with a Mission. He’s expanding his connections with other churches in the Grandview area as well as businesses.