Becoming a school chaplain
by Delaine Zody | Presbyterians Today Blog
FRESNO, Calif. – When I retired from teaching in an inner city high school in Fresno I thought I was done with being involved with the local school district. Twenty-one years as a teacher was enough for me. My retirement plan was to move to San Francisco and get a job with a nonprofit. But I could not get a job. I returned to Fresno and was at loose ends. What did I want to do with the rest of my life? More importantly, what did God want me to do with the rest of my life?
At lunch at a local church, I sat with a man who was a chaplain in a neighboring school district. I was intrigued by what he did and wondered if my local district had such a program. The chaplain worked at a school, offering care and comfort to students and staff as well as working with first graders to build resiliency. He said he thought I would be very good at doing this, but I laughed. I loved the concept of social-emotional education and believed someone should be doing it, just not me.
Then, I saw a notice about Fresno Police Department Chaplaincy working with Fresno Unified School District, the district where I had taught for 21 years. Again, I thought it was a good idea — for someone else. Then another notice caught my attention, only this time when I saw the words “school chaplain.” My interest was very piqued.
I read that there were chaplains in Fresno schools and a need for more. I could hear God prompting me to send in the application. I really didn’t expect to hear back. As an older worker, I’d be discouraged by my attempts in San Francisco to find a meaningful position.
But, I went forward and filled out a 29-page application and met with some of the folks. Then silence.
“Lord,” I prayed, “If this is what you want me to do, then you will make it happen; otherwise, fine.”
But then, the police office that does all background checks got a rush call for three chaplains. Within two weeks I had my ID, my uniform and an assignment. I am now officially a Fresno Police Department School Resource Chaplain assigned to Columbia Elementary School in Fresno.
Two days a week I work with first graders at an inner-city elementary school. I eat lunch with them, join them on the playground and read them stories in their classrooms to help them make better decisions as they continue through school.
Although the lunches throughout the school district are free due to the high incidence of poverty, the first graders were not eating the vegetables and throwing most of their lunch in the garbage. I was so disappointed to see good food going to waste.
The school where I am chaplain sits in a food desert, with only one grocery store for the whole zip code area. I set out to convince the students how important it is to eat their fruits and vegetables. I started buying a school lunch each day that I was on campus, and I would sit with the first graders and eat my lunch, talking about the various foods and what they did for our bodies.
The food, I found, was tasty! I started telling my friends about this and they wanted to see the lunches. I would take pictures of the lunch and post them to Instagram. After a couple of weeks, more students were eating the vegetables and showing me that they had eaten them. They have written thank you letters and mention how I want them to eat better.
Even though I’m retired, I have experience, energy and knowledge that should not be ignored, but rather put to work in communities. God is still using me and my faith for important work.
Delaine Zody is a retired school teacher who has found an encore career as a school resource chaplain. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She serves as the moderator of the deacons at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Fresno, California.
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