In 2005, a small BelPres team gathered in a vanquished old church building to pray and discern the “needs” of Bellevue; needs that would make Jesus weep and pound His fist on the table. We were led to the principal of neighboring Lake Hills Elementary: Judy Buckmaster, who spoke from her heart. We took notes, listened and learned.
Judy led us to five more principals, then to a group of school counselors and finally to a team from Bellevue’s Human Services Department. Our methodology, Love, Listen, Learn, evolved as we became aware of how unaware we were of our city. Unaware that we live in a “minority majority” community where 62% of our student population is foreign-born and 89 languages are spoken in a school district representing students from 124 countries. Unaware that 69% of students at neighboring Lake Hills Elementary qualify for Free & Reduced priced lunch, with an annual household income under $30,000.
Jubilee REACH was born out of BelPres’ 50-year Jubilee to emancipate, restore and revive. The vision was cast: “Bring Jesus’ healing, build community, transform lives.” REACH became an acronym for Relationships, Education, Assistance, Community, and Hospitality.
From the long list of needs, we started with one and served it well. Children were being dropped off at school as early as 6:00 on cold, dark mornings while hardworking parents got to jobs to sustain their families. Judy selected 20 children. Jubilee REACH Center opened September 2006 with 32 volunteers from BelPres to love and nourish children before school; then walk them to school.
“Jubilee REACH was an answer to my prayers. ‘Thank you’ will never be enough to express my gratitude,” said Christi, a single mom on the jagged edge, working two waitress jobs, trying to complete her radiology degree at Bellevue College and struggling just to pay rent. “I prayed for love, support and a nurturing place for my second-grade daughter, Taylor.” Judy (Taylor’s elementary school principal) walked both of them over to Jubilee REACH. Because of the loving support of Jubilee REACH volunteers and other volunteers who came alongside Christi for years, Taylor thrived and Christi completed her degree. She became a professional radiologist, homeowner, and a wonderful mother.
That was in 2006. Today Christi is a successful professional, a happily married wife and loving mother with a second daughter. She’s also a “joyful giver” and a Jubilee REACH advocate. Taylor is a beautiful young lady completing her degree at Central Washington University.
Jubilee REACH expanded rapidly from a mustard seed providing Before School care by simply practicing Romans 12 hospitality. Pastor Henri Nouwen refers to hospitality as the “love of strangers or those who are estranged from country, culture, family, friends, even from God.” Now over 1,250 neighbors come to the Jubilee REACH Center monthly to love, be loved, belong and be part of over 30 services and activities that evolved from the original list of needs we discovered.
In 2010, JR was invited to replace an After School program in Bellevue’s highest needs middle school. After prayer, discernment, “loving, listening and learning” from more principals, two young, culturally diverse “fishermen” were selected as Site Coaches to lead us in faith to our first middle school.
Today, Jubilee REACH Site Coaches serve as “shepherds” before, during and after school in 6 elementary, 7 middle and 1 high school. We’re reaching almost 10,000 students through a simple belief that “every child desires to be known, loved, affirmed, to belong and become part of something greater than self.” We “build community and kingdom in and around schools” by loving the lost, the least, the last and the lonely; by building relationships and earning trust so we may hear the deeper needs.
For example, there are currently 262 known homeless students within the Bellevue School District. An elementary school counselor’s heart ached for a homeless family with two daughters: a kindergartner and a 4th grader. Our Site Coach stepped in the gap, building a relationship with the girls, earning the trust of the parents, hearing their heart, their story and their deeper need. Jubilee REACH then mobilized an encouraging, accountable community of care around the family to provide essential resources for employment and safe transitional housing.
There is always more to the story: always a catalyst, a past that contributed to the present. God uses these to build positive pathways to productive futures and transformed lives. The path is often messy, fraught with frustration. We have found that when we stay long enough and love deeply, we find hope and transformation. The father is now productively employed, stable housing is in place and the daughters are beginning to thrive in school. Sure, there is work to do and we know that His love never fails.
We love One at a time…one child, in one school, saving one family from homelessness. Then God multiplies it to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. Because His love is a game-changer!
BelPres for planting and nurturing the mustard seed that is now Jubilee REACH!