KIDS HOPE USA, a program of International Aid in Spring Lake, Michigan, helps a church link its members who have love to share with children who need that love. The nonprofit organization, International Aid, Inc. challenged Virgil Gulker, a 20-year veteran at organizing church-based volunteer programs, to look at how the church community could become directly involved in the life of a child to make a difference. Rather than the usual gifts of money or food, Mr. Gulker challenged church members to give of their time to a child in need. The result was the creation of KIDS HOPE USA in 1993.
Mr. Gulker's idea was for churches to volunteer at public schools within their own communities, each church member working with one child, up to age 10. The work was initially intended to focus on literacy and other academic skills, but the volunteers found that building relationships was just as important. Armed with lots of praise and encouragement, each week approximately 250 adult volunteers from seven churches meet for about an hour with a child.
In order for a church to become a participating partner of KIDS HOPE USA, a network must be built to ensure the program's success. Each of the churches that become involved agrees to hire a part-time coordinator to oversee its efforts. This guarantees constant supervision and monitoring of the volunteers, ongoing communication with the teachers to maintain an effective program and connection with the parents of the children who are being mentored. Additionally, the pastor must agree to become a volunteer as well. Church members commit to one year of service but many have gone on to work with their child for two and three years.
Teachers have reported increased attendance, improved attitudes about school, improved self- esteem and improved academic skills. Volunteers have reported that the children realize that someone in the community cares about them and wants them to succeed.
The program began in West Michigan about four years ago with just two churches. It has now expanded in the Holland Public School area to seven churches that have adopted eight elementary schools.