About eight months ago, I was invited by Stu Davis, the director of CosILoveYou, and Corrie Smith, the program director, to meet the principal of Panorama Middle School in Southeast Colorado Springs.
Apparently, pre-COVID, there had been some discussions of a partnership between Pulpit Rock and some local business entities to adopt Panorama and bring some tangible love and support to this vital school, in an at-risk area of the city. COVID caused disruption to many things in our city, including this partnership idea, and so it had faded.
I began by simply going out to the school to meet Anitra Gallegos, the principal. However, Anitra is not someone you just meet, she is someone you “catch,” like a cold. Her enthusiasm and love for that school was infectious, and pretty soon, she had me dreaming along with her, of all the things that could be done at Panorama for her students and teachers.
I asked her to show me two projects that seemed out of reach to her, and that would make the most impact.
She walked me outside into her courtyard and said, “Here’s my first dream, though I know it may take a couple years to get there.” She proceeded to show me the courtyard/gathering area where the students show up every day to enter the school and also when they leave. It had about ten large concrete planters that were almost empty or had a little hardened dirt in them. Obviously designed for trees and greenery, they had been left to decay away several years ago. The courtyard lacked life and beauty. It was concrete and blacktop and felt very cold.
This first area you see when coming to the school looked as though it had been ignored, and so communicated a disinterest in the beauty of the school to parents and students alike. Feeling a nudge from God, and without knowing exactly what we would do, I told her we’d take care of dream #1 by summer. She got huge tears in her eyes and was enthusiastically grateful.
Move forward to March 2021. We saw COVID lightening and the school started opening back up. CosILoveYou had ironically planned a “CosILove Schools” Day on May 1st, which seemed to be the perfect time to take on this project!
We built a partnership with another church in the school’s neighborhood, Colorado Christian Fellowship, and also with T-Mobile, WeighOut Ministries, and Leah Behr, a local realtor. With funds raised in the Christmas offering to The Pando Collective (doing missional work across our city), we allotted $4,000 to do a renovation on the courtyard at Panorama.
May 1st, 2021 was a beautiful day! Not because of the gorgeous weather that day, but because some forty volunteers showed up to love on this school, its teachers, and its students.
Pulpit Rock had several volunteers there, including families with children helping plant trees and move dirt and mulch. We also had a crew paint the walls in the teacher’s lounge in preparation for a full make-over of that room, hopefully over the summer. Over ten yards of dirt and two yards of mulch were moved. Trees, bushes, and flowers were planted and arranged in planters per designs done by Pulpit Rock’s Gary Schmidt, a retired landscape architect.
PRC worked shoulder to shoulder with volunteers from T-Mobile’s call center as well as Colorado Christian Fellowship and WeighOut Ministries, all bringing about a taste of community and love to a school in our city. This partnership effort wasn’t just an “outreach,” it flowed from the desire to show a taste of the Kingdom of God in our present reality.
Check out this short video from COSILoveSchools Day…
So what’s next?
Anitra had two other items on her bucket list…
1. A makeover of the lounge where her teachers hang out (it really is pretty drab). With fresh paint on the walls we are now looking for nice furniture to put in the room (a sofa/chair area, and maybe some high-tops with chairs). We hope to find corporate and/or individual donations or sponsors for these items before teachers return in late July.
2. Her second big dream was a community garden that the students would help design, plant, and maintain, but would then be used to invite the adjacent neighborhood into relationship with the school. We’ve begun work on designing this garden and hope to start on work on it in the next school year!
Why would we be so involved with a school that’s not close to our neighborhood?
Why travel all the way to Southeast Colorado Springs to love our not-so-close neighbors?
When Jesus told his disciples, “As the Father sent me so I am sending you,” there were no geographical boundaries, or limits put on that sending.
Our greatest invitation is not to gather each Sunday in worship, as beautiful and important as that is. Our greatest invitation is to join God in his mission to bring redemption and beauty to a broken world.
We as a church have been given a blessing called Panorama Middle School. It’s like God has said, “Here is a little piece of creation you can bring beauty and love to.” In the future, I hope you will be able to join the volunteers that have already started loving on Panorama. I hope you’ll get to “catch” Anitra soon, her love of students, and her enthusiasm to make a difference.
To be a part of future projects at Panorama or other city projects like this, leave your name and email here. We’d love to invite you to join us in bringing a little bit of heaven to earth in the future!