By LORETTA FULTON
They’ve been neighbors for 64 years and they have yet to say a cross word to one another.
Instead, these neighbors are the model for what neighbors should be. Meet the neighbors–Bonham Elementary School and Pioneer Drive Baptist Church. The school opened in 1953 and the church a year later.
“We’ve been neighbors in this part of town since Day 1,” said Jeff Reid, associate pastor and leader of the Primetimers, a group of “older” church members who take a special interest in the children at Bonham. All the members are 60 or over, Reid said, and they live by the motto, “We’re in the prime of life, having the time of life.”
Nothing brings life any primetimer like children. Throughout the year, the Primetimers provide extras for the children. In May of each year, the Primetimers get a big “thank you” in the form of a luncheon served to them at the church.
This year, 20 fifth-graders and 30 honor choir children decorated the dining room, served the food and cleaned up, said Bonham Principal Stevanie Jackson. If they were trying to say “thank you,” it was Mission Accomplished, Reid said.
“We feel grateful,” he said. “We feel appreciated.”
The relationship starts when school starts, with snow cones provided by the Primetimers to welcome the children back to school. On the first day of school, the children have school supplies on their desks and a sports bottle that says, “Be a Buddy, Not a Bully.” It pictures a Bonham Bulldog and the date of the new school year. The other side of the bottle has the dates for Pioneer Drive’s Vacation Bible School the following June. The teacher prints the student’s name on the bottle, which is left at school each day.
With about 68 percent of Bonham’s students qualifying for free or reduced lunches, those gifts are most welcomed, Jackson said. The Primetimers take the donated school supplies to Bonham about two weeks before school opens so that they will be on the student’s desk on opening day.
Primetimers also donate money to Bonham, to the tune of $73,000 in the past 11 or 12 years. That money helps with more school supplies as the year goes on, medical and prescription assistance, and anything that might come up. A check is presented each year in early December. Part of it is used to buy presents for the children in need. The gifts are wrapped and given to the parents so that they can say the gifts came from them if they wish, Jackson said.
“It’s just a blessing we can do it,” Jackson said.
Also in early December, the children get to wear pajamas to school one day. They are bused to downtown Abilene for a showing of “Polar Express” at the historic Paramount Theater with its storybook appearance. For one student last year, it was the first time to be in any movie theater. He was overwhelmed with the beauty of the Paramount, Jackson said.
“Do they all look like this?” he asked.
The Primetimers also get a treat in December when Bonham third-graders perform a Christmas program for them. As the school year progresses, the relationship continues. For 25 students, that means getting to take home a weekend backpack full of enough food to cover the weekend. In June, during an in-service day, teachers and staff are invited to Pioneer Drive for a free lunch, with no program, no agenda, just a quiet hour.
Bonham is unique in Abilene, Jackson said, as it has no buses. All the children live within two miles of the school, making it a true neighborhood school. That makes the relationship with Pioneer Drive Baptist Church even more special.
The partnership between Pioneer Drive and Bonham started when the late JoAnn Brown, a retired school teacher and administrator, saw the need and started the good-neighbor policy. Over the years, other schools have contacted Pioneer Drive about being partners, Reid said, but the answer is always “no.”
“Bonham is one of our key points of ministry,” Reid said.