Serve Our Schools links Christians who care for public school students

Last year, CityReach volunteers gave away the equivalent of more than $3 million dollars worth of food. often partnering with local schools.

Three months ago, First Call and Youth Advocacy Society came out with their annual BC Child Poverty Report, declaring that 126,000 children in BC (more than 14 percent) were living below the poverty line.

Financial pressures faced by parents lead many to work multiple jobs, often at odd hours – which makes paying for childcare or spending valuable time with their children more difficult.

As director of CityGate Vancouver, I have become aware over the last year of at least four organizations rooted in the Christian story which are stepping up in a huge way to help these families.

With Rob McKinley of UGM and Cheryl McManus of CityReach, we pulled together these organizations to discern whether they could learn from each other and collaborate together. We also began exploring how we could invite churches to partner with these organizations.

Towards that end, we formed a network called Serve our Schools, which held its initial gathering last October. We had representatives of about 20 churches present. That interest from churches is leading this network to plan another event this fall, to invite churches to take steps of partnership.

At this gathering, we will be laying out:

  1. how churches can get started on a partnership with one of these fine organizations,
  2. what would be required of a church to both get started and develop this partnership with an agency and a local school,
  3. how each organization can resource these churches to empower them to love their local school well.

I am very excited about these developing partnerships since they have the potential to bear witness to a growing population of struggling families and children of the compassion of God.

These four agencies are making a substantial contribution to the well-being of children and families across Metro Vancouver – far beyond what most people I have talked to are aware of. These groups are a largely unknown treasure in our cities, so let me tell you about some of their transformative efforts.


CityReach works with more than 50 schools.

Would you have guessed that Vancouver’s largest fresh food bank is run out of a Christian organization begun by a church? For each of the last two years, CityReach (started out of Broadway Church) has given away the equivalent of more than $3 million dollars worth of food. Yes, you read that correctly – $3,000,000!

Through their three sites in Vancouver, Surrey and the Tri-Cities, they have partnered with over 50 schools.

Last year alone, they provided 5,839 fresh food hampers, with over 1,000 families receiving a weekly box typically valued at over $100. They also distributed 500 backpacks and 250 hygiene kits for pre-teens.

They have developed a sophisticated supply chain of fresh food providers and a host of volunteers who work diligently to provide these vital resources for families who need a hand up.

CityReach is connecting with more schools, staff, students and families than ever before and is now aiming to hire an Adopt-A-School Director to deepen current relationships with schools. The aim is to jumpstart a movement of churches partnering with schools across Metro Vancouver.

Vancouver Urban Ministries

Vancouver Urban Ministries (VUM) has focused their efforts around tutoring.

Their passion is to provide children who experience learning difficulties with specialized one-on-one tutoring so they can improve their reading, writing and math skills; develop self-esteem and a sense of achievement; and find hope for a brighter future, in part through the long-term caring relationships with their tutors.

VUM trains tutors in the proven Orton-Gillingham approach, which engages a multitude of the children’s senses. The dedicated time these tutors spend with students not only enhances academic learning but also provides nurturing and encouragement for children, most of whom are part of families facing financial struggles and attending challenges.

VUM received referrals from nine schools and tutors in two of these schools. They value their crucial relationships with churches from many denominations across Metro Vancouver.

At the Serve our Schools gathering last fall, we heard first-hand from a grateful parent how her two girls had grown in confidence, improved their grades and had grown to love the music lessons that VUM also provides (in their Eagle Youth Music School).

VUM receives referrals from nine schools and tutors in two of these schools. They value their crucial relationships with churches from many denominations across Metro Vancouver. They are now tutoring in six churches and train volunteer tutors from churches – who they link with a school with whom the church is developing relationships and trust.

Promise Vancouver

Promise Vancouver trains young leaders as they work with children.

I know the work of Promise Vancouver (PV) directly as I was pastor of a church in East Van that hosted their after-school program and teen leadership training for many years (before taking a hiatus the group was known as Urban Promise).

Promise Vancouver’s motto is “to reach a child, raise a leader, restore a community.” Part of what makes PV unique is the ongoing relationships they develop with the child, the family, the neighbourhood and the school they partner with.

Children who start out in after-school tutoring often become (paid) leaders in their teens, thereby not only giving back to other children but also developing significant leadership skills that aid them in their longer-term pursuits in life.

Currently, Promise Vancouver is focused on its partnership with Lord Strathcona School, from which more than 40 children participate in their after-school program. They also have 16 teens in their paid leadership track who are helping with both the after-school care and summer day camp.

Promise Vancouver is exploring how they might partner with other schools and churches. If you are part of a church with a hall or gymnasium and some classrooms – and a heart to love children in your local school who need after-school care – I encourage you to contact PV and/or join in our event this fall.

City Dream Centre

Volunteers at the City Dream Centre thrift store.

In 2009, Loretta Hibbs was asked a question: if their organization were to disappear, would anyone notice? This led Loretta and others to a pathway of dedicated service impacting people’s well-being in many practical ways.

City Dream Centre (so named in 2016) began various efforts which eventually included food distribution, free dentistry to families in need, a sewing program, a thrift store, community celebrations, events and more. The scope of their work is impressive.

One project that would become a foundational piece began when Loretta approached the Surrey School Board with a very general offer to help, not really knowing what that would look like. She asked for the name of the school with the most needs in Surrey so they could meet those needs on an ongoing basis.

There were told that four schools were struggling equally, so the School Board could not choose just one. Loretta took all four.

The Adopt-a-School program was born, and the need was so much greater than she could have imagined. City Dream Centre now partners with numerous schools, especially those identified as having a larger vulnerable population of students.

At our Serve our Schools event in October of last year, we heard how Loretta went with a local pastor to speak with a school principal and share their vision to help, which sparked a growing and fruitful partnership between City Dream Centre, the pastor’s church and the school.

City Dream Centre has developed such partnerships with numerous churches and schools all the way from Surrey to Abbotsford.

Service, partnership

CityReach volunteers offer hope.

Here is one small story of a partnership between CityReach, Strathcona School and The Way Church (which has a congregation in Strathcona), a partnership that emerged out of collaborative conversation in this network we are developing together.

Last fall, CityReach, Promise Vancouver and Vancouver Urban Ministries became aware of each other’s involvement in Lord Strathcona Elementary School. As a result they initiated conversations about how to nurture their common engagement with this school.

The Way Church leadership also participated in this meeting and began to join in conversations with school administration themselves. Having seen the agencies’ commitment to service – VUM and Promise Vancouver have partnered with Lord Strathcona for many years – school officials are growing in trust with all of these groups. Now volunteers from The Way Church and these organizations share in sports days and other events.

Imagine, join in

Can you imagine if other schools developed this kind of trust across our city and followed this same path? It could dramatically alter the perception of the church in the city, support exponentially more families and children in need and create lasting transformation in our neighbourhoods.

Each of these organizations is already doing this good work, but they are looking for more support to keep going. To learn more about their missions and how to get involved, visit their websites:

Also, stay tuned for details this fall to learn how you can become a partner in adopting a school!

Tim Dickau is Director of CityGate Vancouver, as well as Associate for the Missional Leadership Certificate Program at the Centre for Missional Leadership. Prior to taking on these roles, Tim served for 30 years as pastor of Grandview Church in East Vancouver.

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