What does a church do with an extra few thousand dollars? If Robert T. Schlipp is the pastor, the congregation teaches kids to transform their community.
Schlipp, 46, has long been ministering to kids, from serving as a children’s pastor at one of Northern California’s largest churches to portraying Bibleman in a series of videos and outreaches across the country. However, as pastor of Radiant Life Church in Lodi, California, he is still much involved in the lives of children in the community.
Through a program known as The A.C.T. Project — A Community Transformed — local schoolchildren are encouraged to recognize a need and then empowered to do something to help.
The project began in 2016, when Schlipp decided to invest the proceeds from a recent fundraiser into the community instead of spending the money in ways that would only benefit the congregants of Radiant Life Church. Although the church had been around for 30 years, many in the city of 67,000 didn’t know it existed.
Schlipp decided to reach out to the children of Lodi through Erma B. Reese Elementary School where his own daughter and son attended: 15-year-old Abigail and 13-year-old Zachary at the time.
During a meeting with Principal Gary Odell to brainstorm how to best use the funds, Schlipp says the two developed a vision to empower children to change the community through sponsored acts of kindness.
They decided to pick finalists based on an essay-writing contest that related an area of need the participant recognized. Those who advanced then would receive credit from which they could spend money to meet that need.
School administrators initially resisted the idea, Schlipp says, because it “didn’t fit in a predesignated box.” Administrators hesitated because the children would be required to spend the money on others, not themselves.
“The goal is to teach kids to give selflessly, not to meet the needs of that child,” says Schlipp, a graduate of Evangel University. “There are so many other influences that make their way into kids’ culture. Selflessness is a new concept to most of them.”
However, Odell had authority to approve a schoolwide assembly with the theme Kindness Matters. There, the vision was cast and essays assigned with the goal of 100 percent student involvement.
Now in its sixth year, The A.C.T. Project has touched hundreds of lives in various ways.
“Our students are enthusiastic about the program and very creative in the projects they seek funding for,” says Gary E. Mohr, the current principal of Erma Reese Elementary.
“From helping animal shelters, a grieving family, and the homeless, to providing coffee to front-line medical personnel at the local hospital during the COVID pandemic, our students have focused on others.”
He says that the children involved learn that they can make a difference in a real way. He says it has been a blessing to work with Schlipp.
The amount of money awarded to each essay winner is determined by the size of the need requested. The money has been spent in a variety of ways.
Schlipp says about a third of the recipients are assisted in the form of direct donations in the child’s name through different charities, one of which is Assemblies of God Northern California and Nevada District Disaster Relief Fund.
The remainder of those in need are blessed with tangible gifts the children shop for and purchase with the awarded funds.
“We meet at Walmart on a designated day, and the children shop with their parents or guardians,” Schlipp says. “When it’s time to check out, we meet at the same cashier’s line.”
He has a debit card and approves the purchases as they come through, often permitting the amount to slightly exceed the budgeted amount.
One of Schlipp’s favorite memories is that of a Walmart cashier, who after seeing several children come through her line and go over the amount allocated, reached in her pocket, and pulled out some cash to help with the project.
Whether blankets for a shelter, baby items for a pregnancy care center, or food for the homeless, the children and their parents then deliver the goods to those in need.
“The A.C.T. Project is biblically centered and inspired, and we present biblical principles,” says Schlipp.