The parking lot was overflowing with vehicles at the Greenway Park Elementary School open house earlier this month.
That hasn’t always been the case at this Title 1 school on Monroe Road, where more than half the students receive free or reduced lunch.
The school has been buoyed in recent years by partnerships with local churches. New Charlotte Church, which meets 2.4 miles away at the International Sports Center on Monroe Road, paid for L.L. Bean backpacks and supplies from Walmart this year for all 700 Greenway Park students.
“Words really cannot do the job of expressing what the partnership between New Charlotte Church and Greenway Park Elementary has meant to our entire community,” new Greenway Park Principal Anna Kuykendal wrote in an email.
“There is no student that is sitting in their seat, worried and anxious about how they are going to procure the necessary school supplies.”
When Heather Perino, a single mother who recently moved to the Greenway Park school district, showed the backpack to her second-grade son, he gave her a rare, “Mom, that’s cool.”
“I think it’s wonderful that a community organization, whether it be a church or a business, will step into a school system that is struggling financially with budget restrictions and help the students like they did,” Perino said.
The partnership began in summer 2012, when New Charlotte Church, founded in 2010 in senior pastor Chris Payne’s living room, decided to extend its reach into the community. Church membership had grown into the hundreds.
“We approached the principal at Greenway Park and asked what we could do to help,” Payne said.
At that time, the school’s PTA leadership had five members.
The church stepped in where it could. Church members gave out backpacks at the school’s 2012 fall open house. Former Principal Paula Rao told church leaders that year’s open house had the largest turnout she’d ever seen there.
At Christmas, the church gave a coat and a pair of shoes to every child at the school. In spring, church members bought enough books for every student to take home five for the summer.
Then the church got wind of the school’s lack of technology.
“The teachers said to us, ‘As we work with students, particularly students who have a gap in their learning, we just don’t have technology here,’ ” Payne said. “ ‘We don’t have access to the technology our counterparts do in other parts of the city.’ ”
New Charlotte Church contacted Apple and bought 100 iPads for Greenway Park. Fifth-grade teacher Sarah Faulkenberry said that having iPads for every classroom provides support and an outlet for differentiated education for students.
Church and school leaders also established Room 211, a large supply closet in the school stocked with new coats, extra backpacks and school supplies.
The church then partnered with Scholastic, which set up a book fair at the church on several Sundays in the spring. Church members bought more than $20,000 worth of books, and Scholastic donated thousands of dollars to Greenway Park.
Along with the more than $250,000 in technology and supplies the church has donated to the school, more than 100 church members provide weekly mentoring, tutoring and a listening ear.
Guy Ogino, a consultant and member of New Charlotte, began working with a third-grader at Greenway Park in 2012. Sometimes they had lunch together, and other times Ogino helped the student with math. Ogino has since coached Science Olympiad and helped other students with classes.
“It has helped me understand firsthand how volunteering can help,” Ogino wrote in an email. “By being in the classroom to help the teacher with one or two students they can then work with the class more effectively.”
Both church and school leaders say they have benefited from the partnership, often in ways they didn’t expect.
“We have received so much more from this partnership than we’ve given,” Payne said. “This has been a way for people to see there is a lot of need in our city and we can do something about it.”
Some families from Greenway Park now attend New Charlotte Church, and some teachers, including Faulkenberry, have joined.
Kuykendal, who came to Greenway Park from a school in Durham, said that in her 11 years of working in education she has never seen this level of community support. “It is truly an amazing thing,” she said.
Kuykendal said that when she met with teachers, every one talked about the partnership. “The teachers feel valued and loved by the staff and congregation at New Charlotte Church, which is a huge boost to morale,” she said.
Payne said the church wants to continue posing its original question, “How can we help you?” to other local schools.
Faulkenberry called the relationship between Greenway Park and New Charlotte Church “strong and loyal.”
“I have so much faith and hope that there will be more organizations out there that step up to the plate and give a hand to local schools,” she said. “It truly matters, and Greenway Park is proof it works.”