Seeking a way to serve their community in a meaningful way, lead pastors Jonathan and Rebecca Burtram of Redemption Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, saw an opportunity to help by meeting the educational needs of local students affected by the changes in school schedules due to the novel coronavirus. When the Burtrams realized many schools wouldn’t hold face-to-face classes this fall, they began to discuss the idea of hosting students who needed help with online assignments.
Rebecca Burtram, 39, has been a public educator for the past 15 years.
“I have always desired to find a way to provide more equity in the educational system,” she says. “So when God presented us with this ministry opportunity, Jon and I knew we needed to move forward to make it happen.”
Redemption Church opened in 2016 after the Burtrams and their team worked with Church Multiplication Network. The couple subsequently have been involved in CMN Launch training events. Redemption Church is a small congregation located in an expensive area. Finances are always a challenge, Burtram says, and both pastors work full time outside the church. Rebecca is communications coordinator with Hantzmon Wiebel, while Jon is project manager at Halcyon Contracting, though he plans to stop working there soon and devote more time to the church.
As they considered the new education project, the Burtrams knew two other local organizations had started hosting students in gyms. But those fees ranged between $800 and $1,200 per child per month. They knew the cost per student could be kept to about $500 per month at Redemption Church. But the Burtrams wanted to base their fees solely on what the families could afford to pay. They believed generous donors would make up the difference. Along with their lead team, they decided to proceed with the project and open Redemption Church Study Center.
Between their outside work, regular church duties, and caring for their family of six — including their three teenage children and their godson who lives with them — finding the time and energy for this new ministry proved to be a struggle for the Burtrams. With less than six weeks to prepare before opening the doors, the sheer number of tasks to be completed seemed daunting. Besides the administrative tasks of creating a website and handbook, devising emergency forms, and formulating learning needs documents, they needed to purchase learning stations, recruit volunteers, and find contributors. Opening the Study Center in August proved exhausting.
“Even though I was tired, it didn’t feel like work because I was so excited about this project,” Burtram says. “I am 100 percent convinced of its value to our community and the students who are most vulnerable in our systems.”
Erica Shortbridge has a 6-year-old son who is a participant in the program. She says virtual school at home proved to be tough for their family, with the lures of personal toys and the oddity of going to school without leaving home.
“The center has helped my child to feel like virtual school is more like regular school with the presence of other learners and social interaction,” Shortbridge says. “The staff is friendly and communicative, and I am so appreciative of their genuine concern for my son’s academic and personal well-being.”
Currently, fees paid for the 24 students active in the program average $135 per month per child. A few organizations and several individuals have stepped up to help cover the difference. However, Burtram says if schools stay virtual well into next year, the center will need additional donors to join the effort and help continue the program. Teachers and social workers have contacted them to ask about adding other students, but more pupils will mean adding another staff member and require more donors to supplement the additional costs. Burtram says she trusts that God will provide additional revenue streams if the center is meant to serve more students.
“God called us to love our neighbors and sometimes love doesn’t make sense in our schedules or our finances,” Burtram says. “But I have found the supernatural steps in when we don’t have what it takes in the natural.”