By Grettel Loney
In 1921, Wesley Chapel AME Church in North Tulsa (now known as Wesley Chapel United Methodist) had a thriving congregation before it was one of the thirteen churches that was burned down in the Tulsa Race Riot. They rebuilt. In the 50s and 60s it was a 500-600 member church that built what is now known as Towne Square Apartments next to Booker T. Washington High School. But, as the area suffered socio-economically, so did the congregation. Ten years ago, twenty members were left, nearly all senior citizens.
Chris Beach was appointed to be pastor of the church, and after four months of gathering the church together for prayer for direction, the church felt God was leading them to reach out to the children of North Tulsa.
When they began their first step of reaching the children with a summer-long camp, he asked for someone to step up to be the director. No one stepped up. When he asked again, he was caught off guard when his 7-year-old daughter, Allie, enthusiastically stepped up to the plate. Chris then thought he would find an adult by asking, “Okay, can someone help her be the director?” No adults stepped up, but Destiny, a sweet nine-year-old from the neighborhood, didn’t hesitate to raise her hand to become a director with Allie.
Not sure what to do with two children who wanted to direct a whole summer-long camp, Chris then prayed, “Lord, what do I do with that?” He believed God’s response was to help them be successful running their own summer camp. So Chris said, “All right, kids, it’s your summer camp. What do you want to do with it?” They wanted a camp to teach kids about Jesus. They wanted field trips every day. They wanted reading, arts & crafts, and basketball.
Their goal was to reach fifty kids. So they started working on a budget. A little boy thought they’d need eight million dollars. Thankfully, it was closer to $60,000 for passenger vans, gas, field trips, and food. They would need to raise the money and get as many items donated as possible. During the five weeks of camp, they raised $10,000. Then, 50 local establishments and businesses donated field trips. Tulsa Public Schools saved them $17,000 by providing breakfast and lunch. The community noticed, and Tulsa World ran a front cover story in their local section called “Not So Large, But Still in Charge,” talking about kids as young as seven and eight (Josh became Allie’s assistant) years old running their own summer camp.
Ten years later, Wesley has a ten-week summer camp, thirty-week after-school program, and three week-long camps during the breaks (Fall, Christmas and Spring).
Wesley United Methodist now has 200 children attending throughout the year, with the largest daily attendance being for the Christmas party at 80 and during the summer as high as 65.
“Give a child a pizza, and you feed him for a day; teach a child to make a pizza, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
At least that’s how the church must have interpreted that familiar saying. Two years ago, the church saw another part of the original vision come to fruition – reaching the children with basketball—and pizza—and so The Pizza Factory was born.
They went to work transforming an unused daycare into a pizza training kitchen. When the kitchen was ready to be modified after testing it and making hundreds of pizzas to serve to the less fortunate of the community, they garnered the help of Mark Long, the man who helped start all 150 Mazzio’s franchises after the original was born during his 36 years with the company. With his wisdom and guidance, the children at Wesley built an impressive pizza kitchen from the ground up.
When the children come to the camps, they start in what the church calls the E.A.S.T. division (Early Achiever Servant Teams) and move to the W.E.S.T. (Well Experienced Servant Teams). There are fifteen modules in the E.A.S.T. division that teaches them how to serve others, how to get their food handlers card, how to plan their own business, how to market, how to become a better reader and stronger at math, and of course, how to make a great pizza.
Through The Pizza Factory, already more than 150 kids have obtained their food handler cards.
At the heart of what they’re taught is to be a blessing to their community. So each time the children’s E.A.S.T. teams meet, each child makes two pizzas—one to deliver to the homeless downtown, and one to take to their own families.
After their first fifteen modules, the leaders determine if they’re good at making pizzas, and most importantly, if they have a servant’s heart. They graduate to a W.E.S.T. team if they meet both qualifications.
W.E.S.T. teams then make presentations at churches, companies, and civic groups. After their presentation, people order their pizzas to be delivered the following week. Each W.E.S.T. team is comprised of four kids, a pizza coach, and an assistant pizza coach. During the presentations, the children share how they are being taught to be a leader in their community, how they help overcome reading problems and childhood hunger in North Tulsa, and how they transform lives one slice at a time.
According to Chris Beach, in North Tulsa, 50.6% of kids drop out of school. Only 2% are prepared to go to college, and even fewer than that are able to go to college. The Pizza Factory is helping children to stay in school through reading and math tutoring, graduation encouragement, and college/trade school scholarship funds raised by the children every time a pizza is sold, which they can access when they graduate high school.
It takes a village
So many of the children come from broken homes, but these kids are taught they are not victims of their home lives or circumstances. With the help of God, the community and partners, these children, through The Pizza Factory, are rising above it all.
Two years ago, The Pizza Factory began teaching children how to make pizzas and serve others while testing their kitchen. And after practicing it privately making presentations and selling pizzas at about a dozen area churches and companies, the children’s Pizza Factory is now about to be launched publicly.
On Friday, November 17th, The Pizza Factory is inviting the community to come out to a gala to hear more about this incredible organization and to give everyone the opportunity to partner with them.
The gala is sponsored by KXOJ and will be held at The Other Side Event Center on 69th Street and South Lewis Avenue.
Pam Tebow, Tim Tebow’s mother, will be the keynote sharing how she raised Tim to be mission-minded and how we can all raise our children to love God and to serve others. Tulsa’s own Ernestine Dillard and the Pizza Factory kids will be the evening’s singing entertainment.
Tickets are just $35 each and include a nice sit-down dinner at 6 p.m. Table sponsors get to meet Pam Tebow personally at 5 p.m. There will be a live auction, a silent auction, and opportunities to meet several of the pizza teams.
Chris Beach is the father of Allie Beach, the little girl who volunteered to be the summer camp director all those years ago. They are co-founders of The Pizza Factory. She is now almost sixteen and serves as its president.
Chris said, “It means a lot to me that people love the idea of kids running their own ministry and business. I’ve been amazed at how well the kids are doing. Kids who are behind in reading and math, we don’t want to just help them catch up, we want to help them become leaders so that when they grow up, they can transform their own community. And not just then, but right now. We welcome people from all over Tulsa to come see The Pizza Factory. Meet the kids. Serve with the kids. Invite the kids out to your church or company or civic group to give a presentation on their Pizza Factory and order their incredibly delicious Bible-themed pizzas.”
For more information and to purchase tickets or sponsor a table, please call 918-734-0471 or visit www.TulsaYouthWorksGala.org.
They look forward to meeting you and partnering with you to continue to help “transform lives one slice at a time.
Grettel Loney loves to play the guitar and be involved in her church, First United Methodist in downtown Tulsa. She is the main editor for the918. Her greatest desire is to point others to the love of Christ. Some of her other works for the918 include Her Journey With Chronic Pain Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Her Journey Through Grace to Gracie, and Letters to My Son. You can get to know her better on Facebook at Grettel Loney.