(By Lauren Sharp) While a number of folks in our City Church community are involved in teaching, mentoring, and tutoring on a regular basis throughout the city, this update focuses on three individuals exploring ways we can set up partnerships and start building relationships with kids attending school or afterschool programs the Fan.* While the socio-economic backgrounds of the children attending these schools vary, the kids enrolled in the programs mentioned here are struggling to keep up in school and are in need of extra attention from committed mentors and tutors. For some, the risk of not graduating looms large, and the implications associated with that are beyond the scope of this article. But no matter their background, our hope is that all will become active participants in our community, flourishing with us as we both more fully understand our gifts and how much our Creator loves us. And even though we’re only beginning to get involved, God is already at work in the teachable hearts of both the kids and the mentors.
Lessons in the Fan
Last fall, Katie Spinks saw a post in the Fan District Association newsletter requesting volunteers for Fox Elementary’s Howard Street Tutoring Program. Regular volunteers are paired with the same student every time so they can begin to get to know them and build trust. Katie notes that the coolest part to witness is the relationship building process—it’s in the interactions between students and tutors where she sees God at work. Practically, the kids’ reading and writing skills improve each week, but on a deeper, personal level, God is using that time to show both the volunteers and the kids that they are important, valued, and capable of more than they thought. She commented that, “Some of these kids don’t get a lot of help at home, and I don’t get to be around a lot of kids, so we both love being with the other. I also love to read and want to share that with them and make a difference in their lives.”
Chris Littlejohn and George Davis echoed this sentiment; they are also plugging into programs in the Fan. Having mentored a student in South Carolina for over 7 years, Chris knows first hand how rewarding it can be. Since moving to Richmond, Chris has taken his love of tutoring and basketball to the after school programs at Binford Middle School. As he shared his story, George chimed in that he, too, was getting to know kids by spending some time shooting hoops after school. George had separately met with Higher Achievement to learn more about their after school programs, which serve over 120 5th and 6th graders from Henderson Middle School and Boushall Middle School--Title I schools, with 90 percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals. He learned that they were hosting summer programs at the Richmond Boys and Girls Club off Robinson, right down the street from his apartment. Since the semester was about to end, the program directors suggested George come after work to play with the kids until back-to-school time. Leaving a fairly stressful workday to go play basketball isn’t always easy for him, so George takes the 5 minute walk to the Club to pray for the kids and review all of the names he’s saved in his iPhone. They don’t have as hard of a time remembering his name; they’ve nicknamed him Gasol after the 7 foot-tall NBA star. George commented that more than anything, the kids were shocked that he came back and remembered their names. Both guys confessed that God’s really used these kids to show them their own hearts--namely how easy it is to be so self-focused and self-serving with their time and attention. But that’s not the only thing they teach us…
What Jesus Taught
While we often think we have so much to give, the Lord often humbles us in those moments by showing us how much we have to learn. Take Jesus mentoring the disciples, for example. As they begin discussing who among them is the greatest, Jesus calls a child over and says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5). As we get older, a little more worn, a little more experienced, we forget what it’s like to be like a kid - totally trusting, fully dependent, impressionable and teachable. But that’s how our heavenly Father would have us--and that’s what these kids model for us. How perfect that we need them to teach us just as much.
*We’re just getting started! Have ideas for Youth Mentorship Ministry? Contact Blake Stack (firstname.lastname@example.org). To learn more about getting involved with the programs mentioned here, contact Katie Spinks (email@example.com), Chris Littlejohn (firstname.lastname@example.org), or George Davis (email@example.com).