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Providing Support for College Students in the Rio Grande Valley

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September 15, 2016

By Rev. David J. Moreno, Campus Minister, Methodist Student Ministry, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Providing Support for College Students in the Rio Grande Valley

When we asked TMF leaders for help in stewarding our ministry through some big changes, I knew they would be a good resource. But I was wrong. The inspiration we received from Tom Stanton and the team from TMF made a profound impact on our entire board of directors. TMF helped us explore and discover new and better ways to serve students at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, one of the fastest growing universities in the country.

As a member of the United Methodist Campus Ministry RGV for more than 20 years, I have witnessed an impressive surge in the number of young people in our community who have enrolled in college. This is great news for our community, but it also presents some big challenges for our ministry.

These challenges were made all the more complex with the recent unification of the United Methodist Conferences in South Texas and New Mexico. As members of the new Rio Texas conference, we needed to find support from some new churches that weren’t familiar with our ministry.

Luckily, new challenges also create new opportunities. In our case, it was creating a new Board of Directors comprised of church and lay leaders from congregations in the El Valle District of the Rio Texas Conference. We were blessed to assemble a group of diverse, talented and very enthusiastic men and women committed to helping our ministry.

While the new board’s excitement was uplifting, its collective experience in leading a non-profit ministry was virtually non-existent. After our first meeting, there was consensus to seek training that could help us understand exactly how we should proceed and move forward. That’s when I called Tom Stanton at TMF.

I had heard Tom speak before and was always impressed. He would visit whenever he was in the Valley, and I thought he would be an excellent training resource for our group. But our board received far more than training. We gained new insights into our responsibilities as a ministry devoted to supporting the students in our community.

One of Tom’s most effective methods of engaging us was to ask simple, yet profoundly important questions. “How well do you really understand the needs of students who rely on campus ministry?” “Can you tell the stories of students who might not have graduated without the support of the campus ministry?” Tom always seemed to ask us exactly the right question at the right time. And he helped us articulate stories in a way that would resonate with those we would ask for support.

But the real impact of Tom’s guidance was that he showed us how to unify as a group. He urged us to worship together as a board. We even took communion. I’ve served in campus ministry for 21 years, and there has never been a worship service in a board meeting. It was a transformational experience that affected each one of us on so many levels, while also making a tremendous impact on the group as a whole. One of my board members even told me it felt like it was more of a retreat than a training session.

We started as individuals involved in a business covenant. Today we are a group sharing a spiritual covenant. It’s permanently changed the way we look at our mission.

As we kick off the new school year, United Methodist Campus Ministry RGV is better prepared than ever to serve the students who count on our support to help them to finish their education.

While we will continue to provide administrative services, that is just the start. We also provide married students with a welcoming place for their children on campus. We offer students working one or more jobs a convenient place to grab a quick sandwich and a bottle of water on their way to class. And we will be supportive of all students, many who are the first in their families to go to college. We will serve as trusted listeners, and they can safely share and discuss their individual struggles, be they academic, personal or spiritual.

Thanks to Tom Stanton and TMF, we are confident we will find the financial and spiritual support of churches from across our district and conference, letting us help more students more effectively achieve their dreams of earning college degrees.

 

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