He said, "We must leave our comfortable four walls and meet people at their needs. If we don't do that, who will?"
Ronald Robinson, executive director of the Lewisburg Housing Authority, suggested a program of tutoring and homework help, starting with children from the LHA's Carver Heights project, which is only a few blocks from the church.
Karen Olayinka lives in Columbia and works in Nashville, but she travels to Lewisburg to worship at the Liggett Street Church of God because she is so attracted by Shirley's preaching. Now she has taken on the job of program director for the tutoring program. Olayinka is excited to have the chance to teach children "that education is fun, reading is an important skill and being a good scholar is a cool thing." She says she wants all of Lewisburg's children to have the same opportunity for a great future no matter where they're from.
They have recruited two retired teachers, and some high school and college students have volunteered to help. Every other Wednesday, children from kindergarten through 7th grade will arrive at the church fellowship hall at 5 p.m. They will get a nutritious snack and pair up with a tutor to work one-on-one on homework assignments and activities suggested by the child's regular teacher, as well as general work to improve reading, writing, math and computer skills.
There will also be religious instruction on the Bible and the plan of salvation. Everything will have a fun slant, and the children will gain an appreciation for learning through interaction with their tutor in a rich learning environment.
By 6 p.m. they will be updating their activity journals and playing games until 6:30, when it's time to go home. Parents have to give written permission for their children to participate, and parents or other trusted adults must bring the children to the church and pick them up again when the session is over. There is no charge for participation and children from anywhere in the city are welcome.
Between today, Wednesday, Feb. 13, when the program starts, and Saturday, May 24, the end of school year party, there are four regular tutoring days and one session of preparation for the TCAP test. If they have a good attendance record, children can select small gifts, and their parents will receive a newsletter to build pride in their accomplishment.
It's a small start, but the Liggett Street Church of God has big plans to expand the program to help more students and students from the higher grades as well. They challenge the other churches and community members to take up the slack when school starts again. At the end of the summer they are planning a "Back to School Bash" and want to get the whole city involved.
Olayinka said, "We look forward to strengthening our collaboration with the school system, community leaders and other churches to reach out to students all over the city."
Contact Gail O'Neal at 359-2638 or Barbara Dobbins at 224-1955 for more information.