by Deb Seminary

DeEtta Phelps was in education for over 30 years. Like most retirees, she is almost busier now than when she was working.

Last August Pastor Art Scanson, from McCabe United Methodist Church, called Phelps and told her a man from Campus Crusade has visited the church, asking if there was a school nearby. “There was an after school program he wanted us to administer,” said Phelps. “I had eight people who said yes and we went through the 22 hours of training right away.”

They trained for the S.A.Y. Yes program, which began in February. It is an after-school program for children at Will-Moore Elementary. “In January we trained in the volunteers,” said Phelps. “All volunteers with the program need to have six hours of training, including CPR and background checks. We stress a safe and caring environment.”

The S.A.Y. Yes program was held on Tuesdays and for the 2010-2011 school year it is expanding to include Mondays. Currently they have room for 20 children, K-6th grade.

A typical Tuesday begins with two volunteers walking to Will-Moore Elementary to pick up the kids. They come back to the church for a nutritious meal. “So far we have not had to buy any food,” said Phelps. “Volunteers have come forward to make every meal and they make sure it is healthy. For some of these kids, this will be their only substantial meal before they go back to Will-Moore in the morning for breakfast.”

The children listen to a Bible story before breaking into groups. There are never more than four or five children per adult. They have a homework area, craft or board games, recreation, computer lab, and finish with music. “The children look forward to coming every week,” said Phelps. “They are learning so much, including table manners, daily living skills and how to make positive choices.”

There is no shortage of support or volunteers. “Some people would hear about the program, come once to see what we were doing and want to come back the next week,” said Susan Hansen, one of the volunteers. “All of a sudden we start to question ‘who is getting more out of this – the kids or me?’”

Anytime the program expresses a need, it is met. “I talked about the program in church one morning and had $500 in my hands by the time I reached the back of the church,” said Phelps. “I came in the next week to talk to the treasurer about setting up a fund just for the S.A.Y. Yes program. She said, ‘oh yes, you have $965 in there.’ I was blown away.”

The S.A.Y. Yes program has received gifts of office supplies and funding information. People have also brought in craft supplies and items for the S.A.Y. Yes ‘store’.

When the kids behave appropriately, they get ‘S.A.Y. Yes Bucks’. “We have a store and once a month they get to go shopping,” said Hansen. “It teaches them money management and reinforces their math skills.”

A Girl Scout troop heard about the program and decided they wanted to help S.A.Y. Yes for their community project. “They gathered canned goods for us and asked what else we needed,” said Phelps. “I mentioned some games would be nice. The afternoon the Girl Scouts came, they served the meal and presented the kids with a big tub full of games. The response has been awe-inspiring.”

“I asked ‘why did you call me?,’” said Hansen. “Sometimes I think we all wonder, ‘what do I possess that I can possibly share?’ It is rewarding for the volunteers because we find we all have a certain gift that God has given us and He is showing us it’s time to use it. Whether it’s a smile you share with a child, or a person from church you are able to build a relationship with. This is such an incredible program, it doesn’t take much effort and you come out of it so enriched.”

Phelps agrees. “It is just an amazing relationship builder – like we have a collective soul,” she said. “The church has just embraced this and I hope other churches will consider helping schools in their neighborhoods.”

For more information contact DeEtta at 258.4358 or McCabe at 255.1160.