Palermo UMC aims to help its community one class at a time
It all started with a research project for a class taught by the Rev. Craig French, retired, at the Course of Study Extension School of Wesley Theological Seminary in Buffalo. Rev. French challenged his students to discover the needs of their communities by interviewing key leadership individuals.
Pastor Tammie Chawgo-Nipper, serving at the Palermo and North Volney United Methodist churches, took the project seriously.
She began by interviewing a school principal and later the Department of Social Services, the County Youth Bureau, and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oswego County in Mexico. And she continued to ask people questions.
Pastor Chawgo-Nipper found two major needs in the Palermo community: parenting classes to help coach less experienced parents or parents-to-be and budgeting preparation so individuals could learn to better utilize their money.
“People aren’t sure how to budget, and no one is teaching parenting classes in my community,” she said. “People want to learn how to make a dollar go further.”
Pastor Chawgo-Nipper designed a program, centered on a “wellness wheel” with nine wellness areas – nutrition, finance, etc., that would offer classes to address those needs, particularly budgeting and parenting. She began networking to find experts who could teach the classes.
The Cooperative Extension offers many programs – including dollar smart and energy wise –and some of the teachers agreed to help. A few staff at the Mexico Academy and Central School’s Palermo Elementary School said they would be happy to help out in some way, perhaps with a reading program. A personal trainer who attends the Palermo UMC said she’d be happy to teach a fitness class and connected Pastor Chawgo-Nipper with two nutritionists who offered to teach a food prep program.
“It’s all about networking and making your building available,” she said. “For us, it was making our building accessible. We just really didn’t have a space conducive to that.”
Though the Palermo UMC’s setup was not ideal – it’s modular with open space: the two classrooms upstairs are used each night for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other meetings, and the two rooms downstairs are used for a Second Chance Shop and the youth room – Pastor Chawgo-Nipper saw potential in the dining room.
“I looked at the building and said it needs more classroom space, so I started talking to people and said it’s not something I can do alone,” she said.
To create a better teaching environment, Pastor Chawgo-Nipper needed financial support. She turned to the Richard S. Shineman Foundation in Oswego, which was established by a provision in the will of the late State University of New York at Oswego Professor Richard S. Shineman to establish a foundation to serve the broad needs of Oswego County and Central New York. The foundation offers grants to individuals and organizations that seek to improve the quality of life in the community.
“We had all these ideas, we had all these people who were willing to participate, but what we really needed was to make this place suitable for a classroom space,” she said.
Pastor Chawgo-Nipper looked at the foundation’s seven focus areas – a grant proposal must fall within one of the seven areas, including education, civic benefit, and economic revitalization – and her proposal fit six of the seven.
So, she began the application process. She wrote a few essays, detailing why she wanted to pursue this program, how to measure its progress, and what it will accomplish. In the grant she requested chairs, an LED projector, and soundproof accordion doors by Modernfold, Inc. that fit from the floor to the ceiling so the dining room can be open or divided into four classroom spaces. Weeks later, she received a call from the foundation’s Executive Director Karen Goetz, who asked to meet with Pastor Chawgo-Nipper and see the building.
Her proposal was accepted and the program received $13,000 in grants.
“Our vision is to make disciples. One of the best things we can do is to teach and equip other people and build those relationships and connections so those people can teach other people,” Pastor Chawgo-Nipper said. “That’s the driving force; we want to equip people to equip other people in a place that’s a safe and a loving community. By us reflecting Jesus’s love, hopefully other people would want to be a part of that.”
The chairs have been ordered and received, and the church is currently in the process of ordering the custom dividers. The program’s top priorities continue to be budgeting and parenting.
“When you offer parenting classes, the parents that would benefit the most are not always the ones that participate. You get the good parents who are trying to be even better parents,” she said. “We are trying to reach parents that don’t usually attend those programs by giving an incentive for them to come by earning ‘bonus bucks’ that can be spent in our Second Chance Shop.”
Palermo UMC also hopes to offer classes on saving energy, babysitting, resume writing, job interview skills, food preparation, and more.
“Many people buy instant meals with their food stamps versus buying food that could last five days because they don’t know how to prep meals for the week or don’t think they have the time to do so,” Pastor Chawgo-Nipper said. “We need to offer these programs into the community and show them that in just a couple of hours you can prep the meals for your family for the whole week.”
The church is also working on developing programs for men. Classes will run seasonally: fall (October-December), winter (January-March), spring (April-June), and summer (July-September). Pastor Chawgo-Nipper said she hopes to begin offering classes this month.
“I encourage people to find out what resources are available in their community,” she said. “If people could connect and network, that would be a huge piece. It’s already out there, it’s already happening. That’s really all I did; I brought it all into one place. And thanks to the Shineman Foundation, we have been blessed and we can bless others.”