Students Partner With Churches Through CARE Initiative

In the U.S., community project is helping local congregations impact their neighbors.

Andrea Keele, Walla Walla University, North Pacific Union Conference Gleaner
Students Partner With Churches Through CARE Initiative
Clusters of colorful sticky notes helped Spokane Central church members to discuss how to better connect to their community. [Photo: David Lopez]

The whiteboard slowly filled with clusters of colorful sticky notes after the fellowship meal. Several tables of service-hearted church members reflected on and discussed the needs of their community and their own gifts and skills that they were ready to share with their community.

From bi-monthly fellowship meals to an after-school STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art, math — program, from a multi-church food bank and a clothing closet for kids to around 80 Bible study requests and several baptisms, Spokane Central Adventist Church in Spokane, Washington, United States, is already engaged in their urban community.

Their compassion leads them to spring into action in caring for their neighbors in downtown central Spokane. This opened the door to their involvement with the Community Action and Relief Experience (CARE) Project and this weekend of visioning — and sticky notes.

CARE is a new program coordinated out of the Center for Humanitarian Engagement at Walla Walla University with a vision to increase involvement of young people in community service across the Pacific Northwest through comprehensive, assessment-based engagement plans.

The initiative has partial funding from Adventist Community Services (ACS) at the North American Division (NAD) of the Adventist Church, with oversight from the North Pacific Union (NPUC) ACS.

“This project encourages students to bring their unique backgrounds, interests, and fields of study to partner with the local work of Adventist Community Service centers,” David Lopez, executive director of the Center for Humanitarian Engagement, said. CARE student missionaries will learn best practices for community development and gain hands-on experience, working closely with passionate professionals, volunteers, and expert community partners for three to nine months.

Four sites have been selected to be part of the pilot project, including Bonners Ferry, Idaho; Portland, Oregon; Nooksack, Washington; and Spokane, Washington. Spokane Central Church is the first of the four to launch with two student missionaries from Walla Walla University.

Several tables of service-hearted Spokane Central SDA Church members reflected on and discussed the needs of their community and their own matching gifts and skills. [Photo: David Lopez]

The student missionaries are now serving during the summer months of 2023 in areas such as social work, communications, and summer programs for kids in the community. Samantha Wawondatu, a graduating strategic communication major, is also using this experience for internship credit.

“As someone who has always been passionate about the idea of community development, I am looking forward to bringing my skills and talents into the field and using them to serve the people around me,” Wawondatu said.

The May 19-20 weekend served as a kick-off for the pilot project at Spokane Central. A small team from Walla Walla University and representatives from the NAD and the Upper-Columbia Conference ACS met with Spokane Central’s pastor, Greg Carter, and other key leaders on Friday afternoon. Together they toured facilities and discussed various projects and needs.

On Sabbath, the visiting team joined the church service through informational videos, a children’s story, a sermon, and celebrating the baptisms of five new church family members. Afterward everyone enjoyed a fellowship meal together before Lopez led out in some activities and discussion to get to know the church members and their awareness of and involvement in their community. Late in the afternoon, the weekend wrapped up with a final meeting of key church leaders to discuss ideas and start planning for their two summer student missionaries.

“This project would not be possible without funding from NPUC, NAD ACS, an anonymous donor, Walla Walla University, and the most recent support from the Versacare Foundation,” organizers said. “Being sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and ownership of the local church, these CARE Project partners are excited to see dreams come to reality by involving young people in the expansion of Spokane Central’s positive impact in the community and to continue welcoming more into their family of hope.”

The original version of this story was posted on the North Pacific Union Conference news site.

Andrea Keele, Walla Walla University, North Pacific Union Conference Gleaner