Over 20 years ago, Laura Smith had an idea to connect with youth away at college. She recognized a void in service to the young people. A member of North Broadway United Methodist Church in Columbus, Smith was encouraged by the Rev. C. Joseph Sprague, senior pastor, and began working with the youth pastor to plan the College Cares ministry. (Sprague was elected bishop in 1996). College Cares, a small-group ministry, sends packages to college students to make them feel connected with home.
Today, the ministry is still going strong. Students need not be a member of North Broadway to receive a care package. Packages have been sent to grandkids, nieces and nephews of church members. Some recipients are not connected with North Broadway
Packages include homemade baked goods, packaged snacks and fun items such as kites. A church card is always included. “We want them to know we are thinking of them and hope to hear back from them,” Smith said. Although students seldom respond, she said, “That’s OK; we are planting a seed.” The congregation supports the ministry, and church members donate contents.
“When I was in college,” Smith recalled, “the United Methodist Women gave me something each semester. I remember getting something from Ms. Jones with a handkerchief. I just am paying in forward.”
The ministry has a secondary benefit. Over time, the group has bonded, supported and cared for one another. While preparing kits, volunteers share concerns and pray for each other.
Forty packages are sent monthly for eight months out of the year. Packages have been sent within the United States and to other countries such as Japan and Ireland. If students remain in Columbus to attend college, they also have a package mailed to them “There is something special about getting something in the mail,” Smith said.
“It has always been a part of my family to do for others,” she added. “Many of the kids in their late teens and early 20s are not engaged in church. The more we reach out, we are planting seeds and doing what we can to put a little bit of care in the world.”