|Have A Heart
Holston children create 500 valentines for legislators
By Annette Bender
Holston kids have a message for you. And it goes something like this:
"Dear Senator Jeff Miller. Is your job cool? I'm praying for you. Tanner, age 10 " Of the 500 valentines recently created by Holston kids for state legislators, each is different but the sentiments are the same: We're praying for you, remember the children, and by the way, we're watching how you vote.
The valentines are part of a child advocacy effort recently launched by the conference children's ministry office. Last year, Coordinator Anita Ayers Henderlight invited kids from Holston's 931 churches to make Valentine's Day hearts for lawmakers in their respective states. The valentines were to be delivered or mailed to legislators to heighten awareness of children's issues.
Nineteen churches answered the challenge, and about 500 red, pink, yellow and glitter-encrusted hearts arrived at Henderlight's Johnson City office by early February.
On Feb. 12, a delegation including Henderlight, Holston Home for Children President Art Masker, and Children's Ministry Team member Sue Isbell were expected to deliver valentines from Tennessee churches directly to legislators' offices in Nashville. Valentines from Virginia churches were mailed to government offices in Richmond, Henderlight said. The Children's Ministry Team also was prepared to deliver valentines to Georgia officials for Holston churches in that state.
In Nashville, Holston representatives planned to personally deliver letters of introduction along with the valentines, letting legislators know "we will pay attention to how you vote," Henderlight said.
"We'll talk to anyone they let us talk to," she said. "We are representing the children of Holston Conference, giving a voice to the voiceless, because they don't have voter registration cards."
Issues concerning Holston children include health care, child care, abuse prevention and "kinship care" assistance for single parents, grandparents and guardians raising children, Henderlight said.
At a time when funding cuts are inevitable and the cabinet and legislature are new, advocating for children becomes more important, Masker said.
"Children's programs are the things that get cut when budgets get tight," he said. "We're going to try to keep those child-advocacy issues out in front of the new legislature and cabinet. We're also saying as a faith-based organization that the church has serious concerns about the plight of our children at a time when budget cuts are at the forefront."
Henderlight says she is relying on Masker's experience in advocating for children and consulted him at Bishop Ray Chamberlain's suggestion. The valentine project was conceived by Henderlight in response to a Bishops' Initiative on Children & Poverty checklist.
"I don't know if the conference has done much with children's advocacy in the past," said Henderlight. "But we need to campaign for our children."
Henderlight said she has been inspired by Isaiah 1:17 and the book "Out of the Basement: A Holistic Approach to Children's Ministry" by Diane C. Olson in pursuing children's advocacy for Holston Conference.
She encourages churches to use the Bishops' Initiative on Children & Poverty checklist available at www.umc.org/initiative. For more info, call Henderlight at (423) 928-2156 or visit the Children's Ministry web site.