KENTLAND, Ind. – Doors of two yellow buses open each school day at 3:15 p.m. in the parking lot of Trinity United Methodist Church in Kentland to deliver 20 energetic elementary-school children to the church’s after-school program, a ministry to this 1,700 resident community in northwest Indiana west of Remington.

According to the Rev. Ed van Wijk (pronounced van WICK), pastor of the 167-member congregation, the church began the daily, free after-school program this January. The church’s new building, less than two years old, had ample space for the program which the community needed since the public elementary school closed its after-school program several years ago.

The two-hour program was begun by a generous contribution from a resident of the community, who saw a need for the betterment of the community. Van Wijk said the church’s pastor-parish relations committee interviewed several candidates and found Mandi Thompson to be a perfect fit because of her background in children’s ministries. The Christian-centered program has grown from ten students in January to 20 students today.

Next month, church leaders will evaluate the program and plan for another school year.

Thompson, director of the program, is a young mother from Attica (35 miles south of Kentland), who makes the trip each day to make a difference in the lives of school children, kindergarten through grade five.

Thompson told Together, “Many Kentland parents don’t return home from work until later in the afternoon. There’s not much employment here in Kentland and the after-school program helps working families (many of whom work miles away). If we didn’t run this program, these kids would be latch-key children, meaning they would go home from school and remain alone until their parents returned.”

Thompson said the days are similar in content and include a welcoming time as the children arrive, afternoon snacks provided by church members, help with school work, educational games to increase math and reading skills, plus a devotional time either in the fellowship hall or in the sanctuary where Bible reading is emphasized.

The after-school program is a major commitment to the small congregation and is backed by 16 volunteers, who take turns bringing snacks and other supplies for the program, as well as volunteer their time when needed. The program is currently paid for through a private foundation, which provides for its $10,000 school-year budget.

Van Wijk said he hopes the congregation also can offer a program during the summer like a Vacation Bible School.

In other outreach ministries, the Penta Cluster of churches, to which Trinity belongs, also makes and distributes 70 food bags on Fridays to help provide lower-income school children with food during the weekend. The other cluster churches include: Raub, Mt. Zion, Morocco First and Brook United Methodist churches.

Other outreach ministries of Trinity include a community garden freshly planted after a recent youth worship service, the collection of food for Kentland’s community food pantry, assistance to residents in need through the Salvation Army and help with the community utility assistance program.

“People (in the community) know that if you need help, you can come here,” van Wijk said.

Periodically, Trinity also offers residents special worship services followed by a meal. Members are currently planning an outside summer afternoon concert. The church sits on former city park property sold to the congregation when members choose to move from a century-old building in the center of town. The new location lends itself to outdoor activities.

“We want to be the light for other people,” van Wijk said.

For more information about the Trinity UMC after-school program, contact Mandi Thompson at

“We want to be the light for other people.”

– Ed van Wijk

Program Director Mandi Thompson of Trinity UMC in Kentland, Ind., assists a young student during the church’s after-school program.