First UMC Lake Alfred partners with local school to open a second campus

A year ago, Rev. Kim DuBreuil, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Lake Alfred, was contacted by a local private school administrator looking to rent space. Pastor Kim recalls what happened next as divine intervention. She had just returned from a Fresh Expressions Leadership Academy event where the cohort visited a partnership between Grace UMC and Exceptional Entrepreneurs in Cape Coral (a partnership that empowers people with different abilities). Pastor Kim began wondering if in her new appointment this kind of need existed. “Imagine the surprise of finding a phone message on my desk from a special needs school in our community looking to open a second campus. I knew it was a Holy Spirit nudge,” DuBreuil said.
Life Skills Academy is a unique educational experience for children and youth whose special needs are not met at most other schools. The academy takes a holistic approach to education which incorporates academics, therapy, vocational and life skills. The needs of families in Polk County had become so great that the school needed space to grow.
On August 29, 2022, the imaginings of a school administrator and pastor, became a reality. After a year of meetings, applying for grants, and gaining the support of church leaders, the church is now the new home to 42 high school students and 19 faculty and staff.
Life Skills Academy now occupies the once empty fellowship hall, kitchen, and classrooms. The church believes their partnership meets the needs of students and their families, and it creates new opportunities to minister to their community. “The building sat empty Monday through Friday, so why not offer the space to a school. The church leased its space for a year, with the ability to still use the building for evening and weekend gatherings,” said a church trustee.
The partnership is a winning combination. The school will provide a financial boost to the church’s budget and the church thrift store will offer students a place to work and learn new life skills. The partnership eventually hopes to utilize the commercial kitchen by offering a culinary arts program to students who in turn will be providing meals for church events. This is one example of how a church can seize the unique chance to welcome neighbors, support families, and rejuvenate vacant spaces.
Pastor Kim observed, “I remember listening to Florida Bishop Ken Carter encouraging every United Methodist church to connect with a school and serve children who are at risk of not reaching their potential. The future of our churches depends on reaching new people in new ways, especially younger generations.” Pastor Kim continued, “We’ve been given an incredible opportunity to move our United Methodist legacy into something exciting and new because every child matters and these are now our kids.”

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