Coordinator Spotlight: Dr. Gwendolyn Watson
I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Gwendolyn Watson, United4Hope church coordinator for Fourteenth Avenue Missionary Baptist Church. Below she shares about all the ways Fourteenth Avenue Missionary Baptist Church has been able to engage John Early Middle School.
Tell me about Fourteenth Avenue Missionary Baptist Church.
Dr. Watson: Fourteenth Avenue Missionary Baptist Church was established in 1933 during the time of the Great Depression and continues to thrive in the North Nashville neighborhood where it originated. The church’s efforts are to equip and empower people of God through awareness, Christian education, ministry, and spreading the news of the gospel to edify the kingdom of God. Our hope is to impact the world with the message of Jesus Christ. Our mission is to become a purposeful, passionate, powerful church: one that is led by the Spirit of God to walk together with all mankind in Christian love. These are the very principles that make the connection with United4Hope, Operation Andrew Group’s education ministry, a wonderful partnership.
Tell me about your background and what led you to become the United4Hope church coordinator at Fourteenth Avenue Missionary Baptist Church.
Dr. Watson: My background is exclusively in the educational field. I served as a classroom teacher, Family School Coordinator, Assistant Principal, and Principal in the local school system. Further opportunities to promote high-quality education for students came for me in 2004 at the Tennessee Department of Education where I took a position as the Urban Education Specialist. From that position grew other opportunities, such as establishing and leading the Office of Achievement Gap Elimination, serving on the Tennessee Race to The Top Committee, and working with the Achievement School District, which was designed to remove failing school districts, work to turn them around, and return them to their districts.
I have served on the Scholarship Committee at the church for many years. From this ministry, we established the Destination Graduation Ministry, which is designed to inform and empower parents to navigate the school system to ensure success for their child(ren). When the pastor put out the call for persons interested in United4Hope work, it was a natural fit and opportunity. The invitation to serve as the coordinator came from our pastor, one which I was honored to accept.
How does the leadership team operate at your church, and how is it connected to the United4Hope pillars of impact (student achievement, staff encouragement, family engagement, in-kind contributions)?
Dr. Watson: The leadership team consists of the original members of the church that responded to the first invitation from the pastor. Several other members have become actively involved in the leadership work. The pastor and I discussed the pillars that we as a church were best positioned to support. He made it expressly clear that he would like to see us involved in more than simply making in-kind donations. As a team we meet bi-weekly via Zoom to discuss the needs outlined by the school and brainstorm about initiatives that we can implement to support the school.
What are some ways that your church has been able to engage John Early Middle?
Dr. Watson: Our congregation has been involved in supporting the pillars of impact through student achievement, attendance efforts, staff encouragement, teacher support, and family engagement, last year virtually, and this year in person.
Specifically, for the 20-21 school year, we supported student achievement via notecards designed and printed by the church with personal “YOU MATTER” notes of affirmations and encouragement written by various members of the congregation. We supported teachers and staff encouragement by providing $5.00 Amazon gift cards for every staff person during American Education Week in November, and in May we celebrated teachers and staff through a “Monday Munches” snack spread for Teacher Appreciation Week. To support family engagement, we provided 25 Kroger Gift Cards for Christmas to support the school’s ability to respond to families’ requests for assistance with food during the holidays.
For the 21-22 school year, we have supported the pillar of staff encouragement for teachers and staff in November during American Education Week with snacks and goody bags and “YOU MATTER” notecards of encouragement and gratitude. To support family engagement, we provided 179 gift cards for Christmas, one for each family represented in the school. These were $25.00 gift cards. This work has also been supported by a grant to the church from the Arby’s Foundation to serve the youth of our community. We have plans in the works to participate in the school’s attendance awards program in January. This will involve students and parents.
What have you found is the best way to communicate volunteer opportunities with your congregants?
Dr. Watson: We communicate primarily via email, newsletters, and personal word of mouth invitations.
What advice would you give a coordinator that is still trying to figure out how to engage their partner school?
Dr. Watson: Continue to listen to what the school needs and be creative in guiding your team to explore activities that fit both the school’s needs and your volunteers’ strengths.
Thank you, Dr. Watson! If you would like to be featured in a coordinator spotlight, please email me at email@example.com.