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California school and church community find new opportunities to learn and serve with the Presbyterian Giving Catalog

All God’s Children Christian School, a ministry of Delta Community Presbyterian Church, uses the Giving Catalog to help shape curriculum

by Layton Williams Berkes | Presbyterian News Service

All God’s Children Christian School, a ministry of Delta Community Presbyterian Church in California, uses the Presbyterian Giving Catalog to help teach children about justice issues. (Contributed photo)

For the past decade, the Presbyterian Giving Catalog has offered individuals, churches, and communities ways to contribute to causes across the globe according to their unique interests and passions. For one school in California — and the church that surrounds it — this past year’s Giving Catalog offered a whole new way to make Christmas meaningful.

Delta Community Presbyterian Church (DCPC) sits at the corner of Discovery Bay Boulevard and Willow Lake Rd., the cornerstone of the small community of Discovery Bay, California, about 35 minutes west of Stockton. Nested on its campus is All God’s Children Christian School. The private school is nondenominational, but it is a ministry of Delta Community Presbyterian Church.

Like many churches in the PC(USA), Delta Community has a small aging congregation of about 125 members. However, it is the only brick-and-mortar church in the largely secular town. Its private school provides education and nurturing to 158 students and their families.

The Rev. Doug Schoonover explained that the church’s school was one of the reasons he felt called to become Delta Community’s pastor in 2013. “I was just really excited about the aspect of — here is a Presbyterian church with a private school beyond preschool attached with it as part of the whole campus. In the Midwest, we were used to churches with preschools, but this was more than that.”

The Rev. Doug Schoonover

DCPC was first established 35 years ago and has had four permanent pastors in that time. In the early 2000s, a small group of church members began to dream of founding a school that would serve Discovery Bay’s unique context. The town of approximately 15,000 residents sits 60 miles east of San Francisco and is one part commuter town, one part farming community and one part boating hub.

“We’re unique. It’s quite interesting where we are located,” explains Jennifer Leypon, who has worked at All God’s Children since 2009 and has served as its principal since 2015. Leypon also noted that those who began the work to establish the school encountered few roadblocks, and they took that as a sign that God was leading this effort.

Guided by the motto “Always look up,” All God’s Children first opened in January 2003 with six preschool students and quickly grew. By 2010, All God’s Children was serving students from preschool through 5th grade.

For many families with students at All God’s Children, the school serves as their primary — or at least introductory — faith touchstone.

“We are a seeker school,” said Leypon. “A lot of times, parents say their children are the ones showing them who Jesus is.” Families commonly attend the church while their children are students, even if they ultimately move on. Meanwhile, Leypon describes the church’s relationship to the school as a “protective umbrella” that guides and supports it.

It is the school’s Christian foundation that leads them to emphasize mission and service to others as a core component of their curriculum. For many years, part of this emphasis was annual participation in Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of the international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. That project involves packing shoeboxes with small toys, hygiene items and school supplies, which are then distributed globally.

While Operation Christmas Child had been a successful project for All God’s Children, the program’s coordinator stepped down last year, leaving leadership of the school and the church’s mission elder with an opportunity to pursue a new way to serve.

Diana Schoonover, Doug Schoonover’s wife and the school principal’s “right- hand woman,” suggested the Presbyterian Giving Catalog, a publication produced annually that provides various causes to which people can direct their gifts, grouped according to justice issue. Donors can choose a cause that they’re passionate about, such as clean water access or empowerment for women and girls. The Giving Catalog also describes what specific donations can provide. Examples include a fishing net for $15 or arts education for young people of color for $80.

Diana Schoonover explained that she saw how the Giving Catalog offered the chance for students to choose what they gave their money to. Her husband also appreciated the catalog’s Presbyterian roots.

“With an opportunity to change things up, we have such an established program in the Presbyterian Church, and it’s been around for so long — we figured, let’s try something, and it went really well,” he said.

Each class chose a project from the Giving Catalog to support, and students brought in money — some coins they found or dollars they earned from doing chores —to contribute to the cause selected by their class. In some cases, students’ families chose a project from the catalog to support on their own.

Ultimately, the young students raised close to $600 for various causes in the Giving Catalog. However, the new giving initiative had a broader impact on the students than just inspiring them to give. All God’s Children is a Christian school, but Leypon said that it also utilizes Montessori principles of holistic learning. In the case of the catalog, that meant many teachers shaped their lessons around the causes their students had chosen to support: educating them on the countries, people, cultures and issues their contributions were going toward.

Moringa trees are important to communities struggling with malnourishment. (Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Giving Catalog)

One class, Ms. Gretchen’s, chose to contribute Moringa tree seeds, a bag of which is listed as $40 in the Giving Catalog. That class had the chance to learn all about Moringa trees and their value to communities struggling with malnourishment. In this way, students are able to understand how their giving connects them to others and to the larger world.

 

As the Presbyterian Giving Catalog celebrates its 10th year in 2023, the staff of the PC(USA)’s Ministry Engagement and Support, which produces the Giving Catalog, have been excited by this story and said this is precisely how they hope for the catalog to be used.

“It gives individuals, congregations, and communities a great way to initiate and build relationships with their neighbors across the street or across the world,” said Teresa Mader, who oversees the catalog. “It’s invitational by its very nature.”

Mader hopes other churches and communities will hear about how the Giving Catalog is being used in Discovery Bay and be inspired to use it creatively too.

As for All God’s Children and Delta Community Presbyterian, school and church leadership are already excitedly planning for this year’s Giving Catalog fundraiser, taking lessons learned from this past year to deepen the project’s impact on the students and on those who will be supported by their contributions. There is talk of focusing on water access and building a curriculum around that issue to coincide with students’ giving.

Rev. Schoonover also hopes the school’s commitment to the Giving Catalog — and to service and justice in general — will have a growing impact on the congregation. He explained that the school organically falls in line with the Matthew 25 movement with its commitment to understanding and addressing systemic issues like poverty.

This past year, there was more buzz within the congregation about the Giving Catalog after the school took it on. Rev. Schoonover expects the school will continue to influence the congregation in positive ways that move them toward the Matthew 25 vision.

“Every single Thursday when we have school chapel, I see where I want the congregation to be when I look out at the kids,” he said.


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