By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
When Angela Neal was asked to join the Bible in the Schools committee at Mercer Elementary School, she had no idea just how involved she would become in the program.
“I started teaching at Mercer about five or six years ago,” Neal said. “I honestly don’t remember who approached me about it, but I was asked if I would be interested in working with the Bible in the Schools committee here. The person before me had either retired or left. I just thought I was going to be on the committee and help out, but I ended up being the chair of the committee.”
A mother of two and a third-grade teacher at Mercer Elementary School, Neal is combining her love of children and her love of running for the first 5K Run-Walk and Fun Run on Saturday, Oct. 20 to benefit the Mercer Elementary Bible in the Schools programs.
“I like to organize, to create events, delegate and help people,” Neal said. “I love that stuff. Bible in the School is a big part of me, so this was a natural fit. The race will start at Mercer School, go through Princeton and end back here at Mercer School. There will also be a short fun run for the kids down Douglas Street by the school.”
While Neal has been involved with Bible in the School for several years, running is a more recent pastime.
“I started running in 2009 at first, just trying to lose some of the weight I gained after my pregnancy,” Neal said. “Eventually, it got past just trying to lose weight and became more something I did for enjoyment. Running helps me clear my head and I often pray while I’m running. There are days where I get so stressed out and tell my husband that I need to just go for a run. By the time I get done, I feel so at peace. I don’t consider myself an athletic person at all. Running is just for fun and for my health.”
It was while participating in various races Neal got the idea to combine running with Bible in the Schools.
“I did the half marathon at Burke’s Garden,” she said. “It was pretty hard, but I’m hoping to do it again. I am now training myself for races. I’ve done five or six 5Ks. I’d never see anyone organize a race like this for Bible in the Schools, and after seeing how races were organized, I thought it was something we could do. I have seen so many successful races bring in lots of money, and I didn’t see why our committee couldn’t do it.”
Neal said other members of the committee were very responsive to the idea of a race to raise money.
“I don’t know how I’d do this without my committee,” she said. “I am by no means a one woman show. I owe so much to the committee, and they have done so much. I brought up the idea of holding a 5K, and they just started working on it. They ran with the idea. We have gone to the community and received sponsorships from some businesses and individuals. All the other money is being raised through the participation in the race. It is $20 to run, $15 to walk and $10 to participate in the fun run for kids. Our fundraising goal for the race is $2,000, but we would be happy if we raised $1,000 or anything at all. Every penny we raise will go to the Bible in the Schools program here at Mercer School.”
Neal said she feels the Bible in the Schools program is very important for local children.
“I am so proud that we are able to have a program at Mercer School and in Mercer County,” she said. “It is by no means mandatory for students, but it’s great to have it as an option for students who want to participate. It teaches morals, and I feel sometimes there is a lack of morality in our society. A lot of kids need to learn how to respect each other. Bullying is the big word we are hearing a lot lately, and it’s a big issue for the kids. Bible in the Schools teaches children to be kind, safe and polite.”
According to Neal, fund-raising efforts for the program are important because Bible in the Schools is supported solely on donations from the community.
“I see a need for this program from a teacher’s perspective,” she said. “It’s an elective class and students must have their parent’s permission to participate. Not one penny comes from the school board due to the separation of church and state, so all of the money for the program comes through community support.”
Neal said she also hopes participation in the race will help clear up misconceptions about what the Bible in the Schools program does.
“It is not a sermon, and there is a misconception this is a sermon followed by an altar call for the children,” she said. “There is no pressure on the kids to participate. We just take Bible lessons and apply them to every day life. We will take stories that the kids can relate to and apply them to morals and issues these kids face. Every lesson begins with a scenario from modern times and shows how that story relates to a Bible story. At the end, the lesson comes back to that modern story, and we ask the kids how to deal with the issue based on the story in the Bible. We just try to take the Bible and make it something kids can relate to.”
Already, Neal said she is seeing community support for the race.
“We have 20 people officially signed up, but I am expecting at least 70 people to sign up,” Neal said. “Sometimes people wait until the day of the race. We will have registration the day of the race beginning at 8 a.m., and we will hold the race rain or shine at 9 a.m. People can also register for it at the Mercer School main office.”
Neal said she hopes the race can be an event for the whole family.
“A lot of times adults will come to these races, but won’t bring their children because they feel there is nothing for the kids,” she said. “This program is all about the kids, and since the kids from the school want to come out and show their support, we are doing a short fun run for them as well. Mercer School really is like a family, and it’s great that so many people are involved.”
The first 5K Run-Walk for the Mercer Elementary Bible in the Schools program will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20. Pre-registration will begin at 8 a.m. before the race. For more on the race contact Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Mercer School for registration forms.
— Contact Kate Coil at