- Brittany Pierce
Epic Church Members Fill Community Needs at PPS
Every year, members of the Epic Community Church in Portland engage in a major service project. This year, Epic Community Church members decided to give back to the community by serving in Portland Public Schools. For the service project, church members came together to serve as substitute teachers at PPS in order to help fill scheduling gaps and help out educators in need of time off in light of COVID-19.
Since Epic Community Church’s beginning in 2006, the church has always emphasized the importance of giving back to the local community. “We are a church that desires to make our community better. Our lead pastor, Duane Bower, is passionate about meeting community needs, and he encourages and challenges our body to be aware of the needs in our community so that we can partner together to help in any way possible,” said Melanie Pierce, Associate Pastor at Epic Community Church.
Without substitute teachers, PPS would not be able to offer in person learning. Epic Community Church members stepped up to make sure that PPS students can stay in school. “All year we have struggled to find subs[titutes]. Our staff absence rate this year is higher because of COVID and Isolations/Quarantines. There is a minimum number of staff that we need to have in order to safely run a building. Once we can't reach that number, we are forced to move to remote instruction. That has happened twice this year: once at Oakwood and once at the High School. This effort to support the district has provided several substitutes daily that we normally would not have. It has made a significant impact on our ability to keep doors open to in-person instruction,” said Will Heath, Superintendent of Portland Public Schools.
Epic Church’s idea to help fill gaps as substitute teachers initially came from conversations from church members with strong connections to PPS. “We have several teachers in our body and our body has many friends that are teachers. We became aware of the desperate need for substitute teachers and wanted to know what we, as a church, could do,” said Pierce.
Pierce is one of the many church members directly supporting PPS. “We became aware of the situation through a couple of the teachers that are a part of Epic. Duane set up a meeting with the school superintendent, Will Heath, to see what we could do. Will reiterated the need for substitute teachers. That is when Duane’s wife made the first commitment to sign up and that inspired a few others to join in as well. I lead the youth ministry and already have a passion for serving teens, so I decided this would be a great way to connect with more youth in the community. I have been subbing at the middle and high school once a week for a couple months now. I’m blessed to be able to have the flexibility in my ministry to do this with complete support from Duane and the church elders,” said Pierce.
“The lead pastor’s wife, Sadie Bower, … was the first one to step up and decide to become a part of the solution. That inspired several other people in our church to do the same, including myself,” she said.
Educators at PPS noted the positive impacts from having Epic Community Church members step up as substitute teachers. “This effort has made a significant impact in our ability to fill sub[stitute] jobs and therefore maintain in-person instruction. We are very thankful for their support,” said Will Heath.
Even though Epic Community Church members participating in the service project all have jobs, they decided that if they all took one day a week off from their regular jobs to serve as a substitute, they could help fill any gaps at PPS. “They have impacted students by providing them an education and making sure they know they are important and that the work they are doing is important, even if their teacher is absent. They have been able to give teachers the peace of mind knowing that their students are in good hands while they are sick at home. As teachers, we know we need to take care of our health too, but when there isn't a teacher to teach your class, the weight is hard to carry as to what the school is going to do while we are absent. Epic Community Church members have helped tremendously!” said Jamie Heath, At Risk Intervention Teacher at Westwood Elementary School.
Despite all of the help Epic Community Church members have provided, PPS is in need of more support from the community. “Unfortunately, we have many places where we need some help: bus drivers, custodial staff, long term substitutes (for teachers on maternity & medical leave), teachers’ aides, substitute teacher aides, HCA's (Health Care Aides for Special Education Students), and I know there is more!” said Jamie Heath.
PPS Superintendent Will Heath encourages any readers interested in joining this effort to contact his office for further details on how to help out PPS. “We continue to need substitutes in all positions this year (custodial, food service, student aides, teachers, bus drivers). If any group or individual wants to step up to help we will gladly find work for them to do. Please contact my office for more details at (517) 647-4161,” he said.
Regardless of religious affiliation, Pierce invited community members to get involved with any service projects currently going on at Epic Community Church. “We welcome anyone and everyone to get involved regardless of whether they attend Epic or not. We simply want to be a place where people can be inspired to love our community and do whatever we can to make it better. Currently, our ongoing service to the community is the hygiene pantry, the refrigerator in our entryway that anyone can drop off any items for those in need (such as milk, sandwich meat, frozen items, etc.), and blessing bags for our adopted teachers and adding subs to our local schools. They can join our Facebook group which is where we post the latest things we are up to and get involved,” said Pierce.