Dressed in a reflective vest and carrying a stop sign, Vern Spilker safely ushers a steady stream of students across the street toward Immanuel Lutheran Church in Altamont, Ill.
The students have just concluded their school day – some at Altamont Lutheran Interparish School, some at Altamont’s public grade school. Despite their differing learning environments, they all are headed for a program that has changed this working-class community by providing a safe place for students to spend a few hours after school in an environment infused with the awesomeness of God.
And all of this at no cost to parents.
‘A GRANDFATHERLY APPROACH’
At the helm of the After School Care program is Vern, a soft-spoken, serious man whose heart for God’s children has earned him the 2017 Concordia Plan Services Spirit of Service Award.
“It’s a grandfatherly approach,” says Pastor Jim Wright, who leads the congregation at Immanuel Lutheran. “You know how people say you have to be young to work with children? Vern dispels that myth.”
The Altamont native’s ability to lead this five-day-a-week program for upwards of 80 kids as a retiree comes because of his careful planning with the help of Concordia Plans during a four-decade career as a Lutheran educator.
“Now that I am retired, it’s always nice to know we still have retirement income coming in, and I can focus on what I’m doing here as opposed to earning enough money to exist,” he says.
And so the children of the After School Care program benefit by learning more about God, a benefit that spills over to the kids who come from the public school.
“Vern’s taught me that Christ will always love me, no matter if I sin, if I don’t, if I’m having a really bad day, if I’m having a very good day. He’ll always love me,” says Kaylee Lurkins, a third-grader at the public school.
A BETTER COMMUNITY
Vern says he has seen the changes in the Altamont community because of the decision at the program’s origin to be open to kids from both schools.
And not only do they get along well with each other, they get along better with life in general in Altamont.
“Without Vern, these kids’ lives wouldn’t be the same,” says Pastor Wright. “They would just be going home after school. Many of them would be going to an empty house, walking the streets in our town, maybe getting into trouble. Here, these children have a place to go. I think our town is better because of that. I think our children are better because of that.”