The Litchfield Chamber of Commerce is recognizing one local pastor for his dedication to the community and efforts in providing a free after school and summer lunch program.
Hailing from Durand, WI, Pastor Jason Plumer moved to Litchfield with his wife Stacy and their five children, Naomi, Ethan, Abigail, Abram and Elias over six years ago, and now, in recognition of his work, he has been selected as the 2021 Citizen of the Year for his unwavering commitment to local youth.
Before arriving to the area, Pastor Plumer served as a worship leader/youth pastor in Minnesota. With a bachelor’s degree in public administration and the goal to become a Bible Vocational Pastor, Pastor Plumer relocated to Texas and learned the southern state offered alternative certification, which allowed him to dive into education. In Bristol, TX, he became an ordained pastor and also served as an educator, primarily working with children with disabilities at a public junior high school, and coached football, track and basketball.
The local pastor would then make his way to Louisville, KY, where he taught in a private school and shared the word of God as an elder and pastor, prior to his departure to Illinois. Following his first year at First Baptist Church, he and members of the congregation developed a program they named Tending The Vine that depicts the parable of the vine in John 15.
As part of the program, all child protection policies, as well as the structure was established; however, transitions within the church meant the program was put on the back burner for the next five years. That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Really it is a God thing because, who knew five years ago, all the work we put into putting it together, and then not seeing it work out and you’re disappointed,” said Pastor Plumer. “Then all of a sudden, it fit perfectly.”
Tending The Vine allows the church to strengthen community relationships through interaction with children and their families.
“Dotty Lewis said something really important and I think it captures the philosophy of our church right now. ‘A problem does not become a problem until it becomes your problem.’ The wisdom behind that is that our society does a very good job of tucking things away and just kind of hiding things, and as long as it doesn’t affect me personally, I’m not going to worry about it. But once your problem–if I begin to look at you and I begin to say ‘hey, this person is hurting’, then I begin to embrace that and it becomes my problem now. Well if its my problem, I’m finding solutions to it, and I think the church is looking at our community and saying their problems are our problems, and we have resources to help.”
Through the program, Pastor Plumer hopes to offer grace to children, helping them manage emotions with a mentoring model to allow children to grow more holistically. While they focus on reading, writing and math skills, Tending The Vine’s mission is to navigate through emotions and challenges each child faces and teach them the importance of reconciliation and how to restore what is broken.
“We believe that through the Redemption of Christ that’s possible,” said the pastor.
As the nominee is currently studying for his professional doctorate with a focus on children with disabilities and their families, he was eager to introduce the already established program to the public and apply his project to local children who may need extra help.
“I just didn’t want it to sit in the library. I wanted to see it play out here and see what happens,” he said. “When COVID hit, we were talking to the schools a little bit, particularly Madison Park Elementary. I was talking to Adam Favre (principal) about the idea of mentoring or adopting a school to help kids, because we recognized that this is an area that kind of struggles a little bit.”
When the pandemic arrived and the school switched to a hybrid model, it gave Pastor Plumer and the First Baptist Church an opportunity to implement Tending The Vine through what they called a Free After School Program.
“What that created was, three days a week, kids were home by themselves. And for some children who didn’t have the support system in place, whether they didn’t have internet or the family dynamic to help support those kids, we were finding that those kids were not able to be successful in school,” he said. “They weren’t getting their academics done, they weren’t getting their studying done. And recognizing that Madison Elementary is K-1, that is foundational stuff, and if we lose the foundational stuff, then they are going to be in a real big problem. So we said ‘why don’t we open the church, because we have internet, and let’s provide support to these children and see if we can help them.”
As part of the Free After School Program, the pastor and many volunteers offered internet and tutoring support to ensure each child completed their homework Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“We tutored, helped assignments get done, we practiced math, reading and writing, and focused on those three things,” said the pastor.
Once the school shifted to half days and recognizing the need of the community, Pastor Plumer and the church continued to offer support after school, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. They would also provide transportation to students who needed a ride to school.
“The kids were a lot of fun,” said Pastor Plumer, who said there were roughly 30 to 40 youth attending the program per day.
And since they already had a Summer Lunch Program, they took over for the school who began distributing meals after the pandemic hit. Before COVID, children would eat lunch inside the church building while volunteers read Bible verses. With COVID, they changed the dynamic to a drive-thru structure.
According to Pastor Plumer, they currently average roughly 150 to 200 meals per day.
“We established a good relationship with the school. And that’s what really makes this all tick–is that the church and the school system can work together. Inside a community like Litchfield, these partnerships and this cooperation only benefits everybody involved if its done well with integrity and trust.”
But Pastor Plumer feels these efforts aren’t solely his to take credit for.
“Two thoughts came to mind with the award. One, there is a lot of really good people doing some great things in this community, so it’s kind of weird to have the spotlight on you. On the other side of that, these programs only happened because Lesley Staley, Lisa Harbaugh, myself and other volunteers began to come together to create something. And then the Plumer family engaged this whole thing, too,” he said. “They were really instrumental in helping. A big shout out to all the volunteers and my family. This couldn’t have happened without them.”
He also credited the church, its congregation and community members for their many donations, which allowed the pastor and volunteers to serve local youth.
In addition to serving the church and spearheading the programs, Pastor Plumer assists in coaching the Litchfield JFL team.
“Pastor Jason Plumer was nominated by a community member for his true passion and dedication to the community and children if this town for sponsoring a free after school program and summer lunch program. With the help of volunteers, these two programs were essential to our community during the COVID pandemic and continue to be a resource for families,” said Litchfield Chamber of Commerce President Mandy Jewell.