COVID-19 creates challenges, leads to new campaign to reach students
By David Dawson
Attempting to make those connections this fall, however, is going to look much different than it has in the past.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the cancelation of many of the traditional functions that are held in the weeks before school starts — including many late summer social gatherings and orientation events — and has created the need for BCM leaders across the nation to find new ways to reach out.
In Tennessee, the BCM leadership team has launched a statewide campaign that involves engaging with churches in hopes of securing names and contact information of students who would potentially be interested in joining the BCM.
“In order for us to connect with our Baptist students, who are the core group of each entering BCM class, we are launching this campaign to ask our churches to send us names,” said Bill Choate, college ministries director for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “We believe parents, student pastors, church secretaries, pastors, and others will want to connect the students they know to campus BCMs.”
Choate said the campaign will be crucial for BCM leaders because opportunities to meet incoming freshmen in person will be limited.
“The typical tools campus ministers use to gather names and meet incoming freshmen will be completely absent,” he said.
Jessica Couch, administrative assistant at the TBMB, has been helping coordinate the campaign.
“We are using several methods to spread the word,” said Couch. “We’ve mailed postcards and sent e-mails to youth ministers, WMU directors and church secretaries. Also, we are advertising this campaign on Facebook, and (TBMB youth specialist) Jay Barbier is sharing the campaign in his youth ministry newsletter.”
The TBMB has also created a webpage (www.tnbaptist.org/seniors) that enables churches to submit the names of high school seniors, along with their contact information. Churches can also submit the information by e-mailing Couch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Samantha Hawes, campus ministry specialist for BCM at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said the urgency to reach incoming freshman has intensified in light of the pandemic.
“It became clear that we, as BCM leaders, were going to need to get creative and intentional with other outlets of connecting with the class of 2024,” Hawes said. “We have always had some amazing youth ministers, WMU leaders and church staff who reach out to us with their lists of seniors — but this year we wanted to emphasize it as a state.”
“Although this time is strange, we believe perhaps this will only deepen our ties and connections with our churches to help high school seniors transition into college,” she said.
The cancelation of college orientation and other pre-fall events is the latest in a series of disappointments that high school seniors (from the class of 2020) have experienced. Many members of the class are still reeling emotionally after some of their most anticipated events — prom, senior trips, graduation ceremonies and more — were canceled in accordance with social distancing restrictions.
“We understand and empathize with them,” said Jonathan Chapman, the BCM director at ETSU. “They have missed out on so much.”
In hopes of helping the students recapture some of their excitement about arriving at college, the BCMs on several campuses around the state, including ETSU, Milligan, King and Northeast State, are delivering gifts to incoming freshmen.
“It’s really just a way of welcoming them into their freshman year,” said Chapman. “We just wanted to make sure they had a connection point, and we also wanted them to have something special, so they can start their freshman year at college off in a fantastic way.”
Students from the BCM are delivering the gifts to rising freshmen who live in the Tri-Cities area, and the gifts are being mailed to those who live outside the area, Chapman said.
Chapman, like Hawes, believes some positive developments can emerge from this difficult situation.
“While I am not happy that orientations have gone online for May and June, it will give us an opportunity to personally connect with students in a meaningful way,” he said.
“Our culture here at the BCM is to be ‘Rooted in Christ and Branching Out to The World.’ This gives us an incredible way to show the love of Jesus.” B&R