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A van is my parish

 
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7:00 A.M. EST May 27, 2011 | MASON, Ohio (UMNS)



The Rev. Edinson DeArco, pastor of Mason (Ohio) United Methodist Church, volunteers school transportation for students (left to right) Nahary Balbec, Lutwing Gonzalez and Nelsey Benito.
The Rev. Edinson DeArco, pastor of Mason (Ohio) United Methodist Church,
volunteers school transportation for students (left to right) Nahary Balbec,
Lutwing Gonzalez and Nelsey Benito. View in Photo Gallery

Every morning, the Rev. Edinson DeArco leads a van full of high schoolers in prayer while driving them to class.

Last March, Lakota High School in Liberty Township, Ohio, decided to do away with its busing program. That left the students of the Lakota Lake Apartments stranded more than seven miles from their education.

The youth living in this lower-income complex were dropping out at an alarming rate when DeArco, associate pastor of Mason (Ohio) United Methodist Church, stepped in with an idea and a minivan. The Colombian-born minister said this Hispanic community had to choose between making it to work on time or getting their children to school.

“I was very nervous because my dad is working, and my mom (doesn’t have a) license,” said sophomore Nelsey Benito. Benito hopes to go to medical school and become a doctor. She was aware of how close she came to watching her dream fade away.

“I don’t know what I would do without Mr. DeArco,” she added. “My choices would be very limited.”

His idea was bigger than simply replacing the bus. DeArco was also concerned about the students’ spiritual well-being.

“This is my congregation in the morning,” he said. “It is a small celebration in my car. We pray, we listen to music and we talk about the different situations in our lives.”

Recognizing churches are seeking innovative ways to reach youth and cash-strapped schools are cutting transportation services, DeArco found what he termed “a great opportunity to take the gospel to the people.”

Tenth-grader Lutwing Gonzalez considers the pastor a mentor. “He is trying to lead us the right way, you know the right road, to be something positive in life and follow God’s steps.”

DeArco’s goal for the community is change. He believes that to create change, a community must have faith in God and strong education. Most of the children taking advantage of the van ride will be the first generation in their families to graduate from high school. DeArco is amazed by the faith of these students and considers himself blessed to ride along on their educational journey.

Empathizing with the students comes naturally to DeArco, whose grandmother raised him in an impoverished, rural community in Colombia. He admits that without his childhood congregation, he wouldn't have made it through grade school, let alone seminary.

“Many people supported me,” he said, “and this is the reason I support this community. This is my way of saying, ‘Thank you, Lord.’”

*Warnock is a freelance writer and filmmaker based in Toledo, Ohio. He wrote, took photographs and shot the video for this story.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Driving Kids to Graduate

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