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Making Space for Education

How The Garden Church in Southern California Engaged Their Neighbors Through Online Learning

When David and Sharon Kim planted The Garden Church in Southern California in Chatsworth in 1995, it was primarily a college ministry, made up mostly of UCLA students.

As the church grew, they found themselves needing more space. By 2003, weekly attendance numbered around 250 people with lots of young families. So they moved to the San Fernando Valley where they purchased a warehouse and converted it to the space where the Garden worships today. The surrounding neighborhood is predominantly Latino, lower-middle-income.

In August 2020 a public school teacher was telling Sharon Kim, who serves the church as pastor of leadership development, how challenging it was for students nearby to succeed in their underserved neighborhoods. They were struggling with online learning, and the teacher said often multiple students were trying to share the same wifi in one home. Many of their parents didn’t speak English, so they could not assist their children with their studies.

The students’ plight rested heavily on Kim. “I was broken up and just crying and praying,” she said. The need filled her dreams and kept her up at night. A sociology professor at California State Fullerton, Kim was in the midst of a busy semester, but she couldn’t shake the fact that she felt called to serve the children and their families.

“I put the call out to church members to help, and we received such a positive response. People gave financially, donated supplies, desks, and chairs. There was a diversity of offerings. People came and shared my burden.”

They decided to create a tutoring program for fourth through eighth-graders. “We felt we could help them establish study skills and habits. We focused on building relationships with the parents of our 15 initial students. We really want to see these kids go to college,” Kim said.

The students study and receive tutoring in the Garden’s outdoor courtyard. At first, volunteers supervised students’ homework as they were working online in the morning and in the afternoon volunteers tutored the students. When schools returned to in-person learning, the Garden continued the after-school tutoring. When the Garden Learning Center opened, the average GPA was 0.95/4. Currently, that average is 2.8.

“Initially we had about 15 children in the program,” Kim said. “We were getting them connected online, getting them plugged in with headphones and tutoring academics, but what we were really doing was building relationships with them.”

The Garden also provides a monthly chapel time when the gospel is presented. Through this program, 14 children have professed faith in Christ. “Our youth pastor and children’s pastors are involved as tutors in the program and are building relationships with the kids and families. This is key. They are the bridge to the programs in the church,” Kim said.

The church hopes to expand the program once they can identify more tutors.

The Garden Church joined the Covenant at the Annual Meeting last June. Average weekly attendance is 400-500. Learn more at thegardenchurch.com or gardenlearningcenter.org.

About the Author

  • Jill Riley

    Jill Riley is a freelance editor with the Companion. A former church planter, she now dedicates her time to writing and speaking on issues surrounding mental illness and the faith community. Her podcast, Post Traumatic Faith, is available on iTunes, or you can follow her at jillriley.com/blog.

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