Ohio church hosts local school after fire
When a nearby junior high school building was damaged by a fire, West Chester Church of the Nazarene stepped up to host the 480 students for in-person learning until they can return to their building.
On the morning of 4 September, Lakota School District Assistant Superintendent Robb Vogelmann received a phone call that Hopewell Junior School was on fire. Living just a few miles from the school, he got in his car and drove by to see what was happening.
"The fire was shooting through the school roof," Vogelmann said. "The rest of the building took extensive fire damage and carried the smell of a nasty fire throughout the building."
The initial assessment showed that classes could not resume for three weeks. Fortunately, that day being Labor Day holiday in America, school was not in session.
While the school could shift to remote learning, thanks to some of the procedures and equipment implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vogelmann and the staff wanted to avoid going to a remote learning protocol. The team started assessing their options, including a mall with empty storefronts and a few nearby churches.
One was Vogelmann's church, West Chester Church of the Nazarene, less than a mile from the school's campus. Most of the options fell through, so Vogelmann texted West Chester's senior pastor, Alex Mahaffey, who has a son currently enrolled at Hopewell.
"When somebody reached out to us, we said that's a no-brainer," Mahaffey told WCPO9 news. "We're here to serve."
Together, the church, school staff, and school district staff worked through the logistics, including security measures, how to serve student lunches, and space allocations for classrooms and a staff breakroom. The church ultimately welcomed students for the first in-person session on Tuesday this week. Only 21 of the 480 students were absent.
Vogelmann's wife, Kalyn, is the Southwest Ohio District discipleship president and coordinates women's discipleship ministries for the USA/Canada Region. She recalled how many of the Lokata School District’s buildings have been offered to churches as a meeting place on Sunday mornings.
"Now, the church gets to welcome the schools," Kalyn said.
The students' "homeroom" hour takes place in the church sanctuary. Kalyn has teamed up with other pastors on staff to provide a catered lunch for the school staff every Wednesday and has partnered with Lakota Mom's in Prayer to provide baskets of snacks, candy, and flowers for the break room. In addition, the church staff brought in a large fridge for the more than 40 school staff members to put their lunches in.
The West Chester staff see this as another opportunity to open the church doors to the community and show them God's love.
Kayln hopes that students may remember the love that was shown to them by West Chester and return if they are looking for a church or experiencing a crossroads in their life.
"We are missional people as the Church of the Nazarene," Kalyn said. "This is an opportunity for us to open our doors and say, 'What can we do? We're here to serve.'"