Jan. 12, 2005
The collection on Human Relations Sunday helps fund various projects, including tutoring programs.
By Susan Passi-Klaus*
far will a dollar go? Not very when it comes to acquiring high-tech
gadgets and designer clothing. But a dollar in the hands of volunteers
buying tennis shoes and school supplies for jail-bound teenagers can
literally change lives.
some cases, those dollars even save lives. Marilyn Higgins of Milwaukee
saw that firsthand in the aftermath of a suicide at a local elementary
is a community developer at Solomon Community Temple United Methodist
Church in Milwaukee. She is a pro at stretching dollars into
life-changing deeds. Her ministry is one that will benefit when United
Methodists put extra offerings in the plate on Jan. 16, Human Relations
Relations Sunday gifts let Higgins do "little things for the kids in
our community. We can give them deodorant and toothpaste so they’re not
embarrassed in school. We can feed them the only hot meal they may get
in a day. And we can pay for ACT tests they need to take to get into
But they also let Higgins and her colleagues address some big problems.
her church office in Milwaukee’s inner city, Higgins can watch as
workers piece together a much-needed addition at the local elementary
school. Until construction began a few months ago, she could see to the
rooftop of the old brick school building. She will always remember the
day a well-liked sixth grade boy climbed two stories to the top of
Martin Luther King Elementary, ignored pleas to come down, spread his
arms and then fell to his death.
When his small body hit the tarred playground outside a classroom window, students inside heard the impact.
we went over to the school to see what the kids needed, we found tears
everywhere," Higgins said. "Nobody had an answer to why this sweet
12-year-old would take his own life."
the following weeks, Higgins mobilized volunteers and mental health
professionals to provide counseling and comfort to the students. One of
those caregivers was Julia Means, a nurse at Columbia-St. Mary’s
"In the face of death these kids needed to know they were significant and that their feelings mattered," Means said.
and Higgins spent most of their time holding crying children in their
arms. As they wiped away tears and heard several other students admit
that they, too, had considered suicide. With hands held and arms
entwined the two women walked three vulnerable fifth-graders to the
office of a school counselor. It didn’t take long for secret hurts and
family traumas to emerge.
days of the intervention, nurse Means was walking down the school
hallway when she heard "a small voice" say, "Thank you, Ms. Means." It
was one of the young girls who had earlier confessed to wanting to take
her own life.
we hadn’t been here," said Higgins, referring to the Community
Development Program at Solomon, "those little girls who had been
thinking about suicide may not have changed their minds. Yes, we may
have lost one student that week, but we saved three."
Jan. 16, is the official date for the denomination-wide observance of
Human Relations Sunday. However, local churches may receive the offering
on another day of their choosing.
of six Special Sundays with Offerings observed across the United
Methodist Church, money United Methodists give on Human Relations Sunday
supports the ministries of community developers and United Methodist
Voluntary Service, programs of the United Methodist Board of Global
Ministries, and youth offender rehabilitation programs coordinated by
the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
offering can make a difference for ministries such as the Community
Development Program and many others that might receive little attention
but have significant impact.
the people sitting in pews aren’t really educated about what we do
here," Higgins said. "They don’t understand that in our communities,
dollars save lives."
*Passi-Klaus is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn., and publisher of Cracked Pots, an inspirational newsletter for women.
News media contact: Kathy Noble, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.