Faith and Philanthropy

The faith community in Midland is dedicated to the betterment of the area in many ways, including support of education.

Two influential Midland churches are perfect examples of that, as they have taken on large projects to help teachers and parents as part of their mission in the community.

Here is a look at both churches and the programs they support.

Stonegate Fellowship and the Teacher Adoption Program

It can be tough to be a teacher, especially when you’ve just moved to a new town and are not familiar with the area or the people.

That’s why programs like the Midland Chamber of Commerce’s Teacher Adoption Program are so important.

The idea for TAP came from a resident who talked to the Chamber about building community support for teachers. The need for the program was clear – a survey of area teachers found that many felt lonely and were new to the city.

In spring 2019 the Chamber started TAP with a “soft launch.” Now the program is fully operational with more than 200 teachers and 150 volunteers signed up for the 2019-2020 school year.

A major factor in that growth was the involvement of Stonegate Fellowship Church, which has recruited volunteers as well as teachers to TAP.

“We know that the job of an educator often seems thankless, difficult and lonely,” said Stonegate Executive Pastor Larry Gilbert. “Our desire was for every teacher to know that they are not alone. They have someone to stand together with as they live out their daily life of influence with the next generation. We also help provide them with

supplies they need for daily success in the classroom that they might otherwise have to purchase themselves.”

Stonegate began about 20 years ago as a “church plant” by First Baptist Church of Midland. It started with about 30 families and met at Abell Junior High for several years until current facilities were built around 2003.

“Between our two campuses – in Midland and Odessa – approximately 4,000 people attend and worship each week,” Gilbert said. “Stonegate is blessed to be a part of the Permian Basin and strives to help everyone in this region live out who God has designed, called and gifted them to be.”

In addition to Stonegate’s roots as a church that originally met in a school, many members have ties to the local school district, including teachers, administrators, coaches and counselors.

“Stonegate members have been involved in our schools for many years, from performing work days at schools to help with maintenance work, to assisting and tutoring students weekly on school campuses, to literally walking around school campuses and praying for students and teachers,” Gilbert said. “The Teacher Adoption Program is essentially an extension of who we are.”

He added, “We want to walk alongside of them as they live out their life of influence each day in their classroom. We never want them to feel like they are alone or unappreciated.”

First Baptist Church and Family Fun Day

Before the school year starts, parents of young children often hunt down all the materials needed for a successful year – from backpacks and pencils to notebooks and calculators.

However, if a family is struggling financially, that task is much tougher, if not impossible.

That’s why First Baptist Church’s involvement in a Boys and Girls Club of Midland event known as Family Fun Day, is so important. The event gives back-to-school supplies to kids from families in need.

The church became a sponsor of the event after a conversation Senior Pastor Darin Wood had with the superintendent of the Midland Independent School District in 2018. By January 2019, Wood met with the Boys and Girls Club, Educate Midland, Midland Memorial Hospital, The United Way, Community National Bank, the NAACP and Pastor Kenneth Johnson of Goodwill Baptist Church to help plan the event.

“Our vision was two-fold: Provide a fun-day carnival-type atmosphere for families who might not be able to have a vacation – thus the name Family Fun Day – and provide an event where we give each student a backpack filled with school supplies and the opportunity for a free haircut,” Wood said.

The Club was in charge of the event, and much of the organizational work was done by its point person, Misha Burleson, Wood said. The church provided assistance with volunteers and fund-raising.

The supplies given away were recommended by the school district for K-5th grade students. The North Walmart played a key role in obtaining the supplies at a discounted price. M3P Petroleum supplied trucks and drivers to transfer the goods from Walmart to the West Texas Food Bank, where volunteers from across the Permian Basin area loaded them into about 3,500 backpacks. Crestview Baptist Church also loaded 1,500 backpacks on its own as a church-wide project.

To get people to Family Fun Day, organizers advertised on social media, landed a story in the local newspaper and took advantage of the school district’s contact network.

The event, which took place in August 2019, was huge. It was in the Midland Horseshoe Arena and organizers needed every inch of space. There were four “sections” at Family Fun Day – backpack giveaway, where about 5,000 were distributed during the day; a carnival, which included bounce houses, carnival games and clowns; haircuts, where 26 barbers lined up to provide about 300 for free; and outdoor events including a petting zoo, vision checks and rides.

First Baptist was founded in 1886 and is one of the oldest churches in Midland. Each week, thousands of worshipers take part in the services, either in person or on TV or social media broadcasts.

“Missions have and will always be a key part of our identity, both as Christ followers and as members of the First Baptist Church family,” Wood said. “Our involvement in this event was merely an extension of that vision of helping people.”

The church spent about $150,000 on its support of the event, and plans to stay involved in 2020.

“We have six core values and one of them is “Community,” Wood said. “This was a need the community had and we were privileged to be a small part of helping meet it.”