“Granny” Gibson, a 77-year-old retired school teacher, remembers when the community took care of the community, when one day you’d borrow flour or sugar or eggs from your neighbors, and another day you’d loan them out. She remembers those generous times, but she also feels like she’s living in them again at Portland Memorial Baptist Church in West Louisville.
For two years, Pastor Stephen Smith and the members at Portland Memorial watched as COVID-19 and its repercussions wreaked havoc on the families of their community. Many adults faced joblessness, anxiety, loneliness, and health concerns. It was even worse for the kids.
In an area where school is vital to the social, academic, and physical needs for growing kids, the years of restricted access and remote learning took a toll. Many kids are behind in school, and just as they were getting into a groove at school, Summer swept in and threatened to derail their progress.
That’s where Granny and the men and women of Portland Memorial come in. Collectively, through many different avenues, they’re telling their neighborhood, “By God’s grace, we’ve got you.”
For years, Portland Memorial has opened its doors on Saturday mornings for community kids to eat a delicious breakfast, play games, and learn life skills together. They hear that they are loved, valued, respected, and worthy. They hear that God loves them, and they trust the adults who are telling them so.
“Whether one kid shows up or 30, we’ll be here for them,” said Karen Hinkle, who has been serving with the Saturday morning kids celebration for several years.
Before she was serving, Karen was showing up on Sunday mornings and then going through her week as if her faith and life were two separate things. Now, as she integrates the two and finds joy and purpose, Karen has found a freedom she never knew she could have, and she loves sharing it with the kids of the community.
The mornings take a lot of work and coordination. There’s shopping and cooking for an unknown number of drop-ins each week. There are flyers and walks through the nearby neighborhoods to spread the word and invite kids ahead of time. On Saturdays, a van goes through the community to pick up participants. And a full group of volunteers have to be prepared and ready to provide exactly what each child needs when they walk through the doors. It’s hard, beautiful, faith-filled work.
Summer Weekday Enrichment
Portland Memorial partners with Jefferson County Public Schools to provide weekday academic assistance for 30 students during Summer. Each day, students from kindergarten through 5th grade come to study, learn, grow, and play. They get lunch each day, which could be the difference between eating or going hungry for some children.
Chanbriel Durham, a recent college graduate and long-time member at Portland Memorial, has been helping as a counselor for years. She loves the students and the joy they bring to each day.
“I love watching how the kids change as they get more comfortable,” Chanbriel said. “On the first days, so many of them are shy and reserved, but they’re all full of life by the end.”
As they experience the joy and protection from the adults around them, their light begins to shine through.
As the staff and volunteers at Portland Memorial build relationships with the students they serve during the week, they’re naturally introduced to the parents and families as well. As a church community, they are able to address the physical and spiritual needs in their community.
Whether it’s additional groceries from their food pantry, help with finding a job, assistance in moving into a better living situation, or just listening and praying together, the community at Portland Memorial is actively loving their neighbors.
Out of the abundance that Christ has produced in them, they are pouring out on behalf of their community. It’s the way things used to be. For Portland Memorial, it’s the way things always will be.