Making connections for community, kids

Burlington Methodist teens contribute to mission

  • By Audrey Stanton-Smith For The Register-Herald
  • Aug 22, 2020

Ellen File has served as the chaplain for the Beckley and Daniels campuses of Burlington United Methodist Family Services since 2002. Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)

  • Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald

Ellen File has served as the chaplain for the Beckley and Daniels campuses of Burlington United Methodist Family Services since 2002Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)

In this Register-Herald file photo, volunteers set up for Burlington United Methodist Family Services’ annual Pumpkin Festival. The festival is one of the many events that take place at the center throughout the year.

Ellen File, chaplain of the Beckley and Daniels campuses of Burlington United Methodist Family Services.Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)

  • Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald

(Brad Davis/The Register-Herald) Oak Hill resident Taylor Morton, left, snaps away and films on her phone as her 9-month-old son Conner gets a kick out sitting in a field of pumpkins during the Burlington United Methodist Family Services’ annual Pumpkin Festival Saturday afternoon.    

They weren’t the kind of teenagers most adults would trust with a drill. But Rev. Dan Lowther at the New Vision Depot in Beaver saw an opportunity, and it wasn’t long before the disaster response ministry’s metal tables featured sturdy new wooden storage shelves.

“They did a wonderful job,” said Ellen File, chaplain for the Beckley and Daniels campuses of Burlington United Methodist Family Services since 2002, “and they were so proud of themselves to get to do that. My boys made those shelves.”

Building those table shelves was just one of the community service projects File has facilitated between the residents of her Burlington campus and the southern West Virginia community – a program that recently earned national recognition. The Beckley spiritual life program of Burlington United Methodist Family Services received the Best Practice Award for Mission from the United Methodist Association this spring.

Burlington United Methodist Family Services has 11 locations throughout the West Virginia conference. It is a health and welfare ministry of the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Association of Health and Welfare Ministries promotes and recognizes excellence in human service ministries throughout the country. Its Mission Awards are presented annually to an individual, group or organization that has demonstrated an outstanding contribution to the mission of its organization, community, field of ministry or the United Methodist Association through inspirational leadership and commitment.

“When I submitted the thing on the spiritual life program, that’s what I concentrated on, the community service we do,” File said. “A lot of it is connectional. I love the connection. One of my favorite things about the United Methodist Church is that we’re connected. It means that I get lots of support from local United Methodist churches and individuals and in doing things with or for the residents.”

Those residents – up to 30 at the Beckley cottages and up to 8 at Daniels – are boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18. All of them have been placed there by a circuit court judge, so the state is their legal guardian. That doesn’t mean parental rights have been terminated in all cases, but it does mean each resident has a social worker through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

“They’re all here because they need a safe place to live,” File explained.

Although participation in spiritual life activities, including Sunday worship at United Methodist Temple, is optional, most residents choose to participate. Those who check “no” on the option box upon arrival usually change their minds at some point during their stay, File said. “And even if they check ‘yes,’ they are never forced to participate.”

“Part of the spiritual life program is to connect them with people who are good adults,” File said. “Responsible, loving, kind adults.”

Several members of local United Methodist churches visit the campus to help with various events throughout the year, including the annual Pumpkin Festival and Thanksgiving Dinner fundraisers.

“But my favorite thing is when they come and prepare an Upper Room meal during Holy Week,” File said. Residents mingle and serve with the adults, partaking together in foot washing, a meal, communion, and prayer.

Another favorite time – at least when Covid-19 hasn’t temporarily halted it (as it has all community service programs) happens on Wednesday evenings throughout the school year, when Burlington residents help United Methodist Temple members fill bags of food to send home with local students every weekend.

“A lot of those bags for the F.O.L.K. (Feeding Our Local Kids) ministries are very heavy, and they have to be carried upstairs,” File explained. So older church members involved are thankful for the youthful energy and strong backs the Burlington residents add to the program, and they tell them so.

“We can all help other people at some point,” File said. “Building relationships doesn’t just help the bottom line, it makes the residents feel welcome, valued, wanted, worthy and appreciated.”

Visits to nursing homes are another way the residents connect with the community. On one such visit, a 12-year-old girl who argued with and cursed at another teen during the drive to the nursing home came out of a room where she had delivered cookies and told File the woman in the room had requested someone to pray with her.

“I said, ‘Yes, but you could pray with her,’ and she looked at me like I had told her she could jump off the New River Gorge Bridge or something,” File recalled. Even after File offered some coaching and suggestions, the girl refused. “So we went into the room and formed a circle with this lady. I bowed my head and prepared to pray, and all of a sudden the girl started praying. When she finished, I had tears running down my cheeks.

“For this award, I talked about that community service connection,” File continued. “Community service lets kids – a lot of whom have been on the giving end of services for their entire lives, sometimes to the point of entitlement – give back. It lets them give back. There are times when we need help from other people and there are times in everybody’s lives when they can help other people. This lets them be on the giving end. That builds their confidence and teaches them a new way of thinking about things.”