No eyes were dry during a drive-by celebration for the work Carolyn Wallace and Susy Mendolia had done at the Mother’s Day Out Ministry at First Christian Church in Tyler. The ministry, which has run for 50 years, has been forced to close due to the coronavirus pandemic, and both Mendolia and Wallace are retiring.
“These are things you don’t find anymore,” Pastor Chris Pulliam said. “Two ladies who have given their working lives to this one thing. It’s been beautiful.”
Both Wallace and Mendolia have worked with the program for over 40 years and saw thousands of children and families use their services.
“I just have no words,” Wallace said. “It’s overwhelming for one thing. I feel so much gratitude for the church, letting us minister here for so long … it was about the family and the lives we touched.”
Wallace’s mother got her involved in the ministry where she substituted twice a week before becoming a teacher in the program for two years. She was named the program director in 1975.
“It’s like losing a part of my life,” Wallace said. “And I don’t mean that to be morbid, I’ve just worked here over half of my life. It’s going to be a new beginning.”
Wallace and Mendolia, along with four other teachers in the program, were celebrated as more than 50 cars drove by. Passengers handed out cards, balloons and presents while blowing kisses from their rolled-down windows.
“My son came here,” one driver said. “He’s forty now.”
Another driver spoke about how two generations of her family have used the ministry’s services under Wallace.
“Thank you for taking care of my babies,” another driver said.
Even children, safely strapped in their car seats, leaned out to thank the teachers for their dedication.
“I’ll miss y’all so much,” one child called.
After closing for two months earlier in the year, the ministry opened back up after Memorial Day. But, Pulliam said, the coronavirus has kept many families indoors and reduced need for childcare services, making it “impossible for us to go forward with that ministry.”
It was one of the only drop-in daycare services in Texas, allowing guardians to only pay for the hours their child used the program. The program was open from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and lasted through the school year.
“It was an outstanding ministry,” Libby Lowry, a committee member who helped oversee the ministry, said. “It was a God-send to so many people … there’s been a lot of love and care distributed between a lot of children.”
Pulliam’s own child has been a part of the ministry. But the hallmark of the ministry’s success, Pulliam said, was that members of the community outside of the congregation had used the program.
“We know that through their ministry, they’ve really made a difference in a lot of lives,” Pulliam said. “We will miss them.”