Churches open doors to kids needing help with homework

by Whitney Von Lake Hopler , posted Friday, March 27, 1998 (19 years ago)

SEAFORD, Del. (BP)--When Keturah "Sha-Sha" Sharp heard that Grace Baptist Church, Seaford, Del., was starting a program to help local kids with their homework, he quickly decided.

"When I couldn't do my homework right, I decided to come to get some help so I wouldn't flunk out, so I could get a good education," the 13-year-old recounts.

That was in spring 1996, and Sha-Sha still comes to the sessions, which often feature crafts and sports after the homework is done. "I enjoy getting the help and playing games afterward," he says.

The eight volunteers from Grace Baptist enjoy it as well, says youth minister Melinda Roberts. Her biggest reward: "that I've been able to build relationships with a lot of these kids."

Although a few of the 15-20 kids who show up each time are church members, most who attend the hour-and-a-half sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays don't attend Grace church. They live across the street in two low-income apartment buildings where many families are African American.

Unfortunately, Roberts says, the residents don't feel comfortable going to a church where most in the congregation are white and make more money than they do. But, she adds, that doesn't stop parents from sending their kids to get help after school, and Grace members hope more parents will gradually decide to attend worship services with them as well.

Now that she has "built trust" with the kids, Roberts says, she is sharing the gospel with them, and volunteers are now inviting parents to watch the homework help sessions if they would like. Grace members also hope to start a Bible study at one of the apartment complexes.

At First Baptist Church, Laurel, Md., Joyce Bishop began homework help sessions in 1993 after a survey from a block party the church held revealed that local residents wanted help for their children. "I just felt a real burden for this," she says.

Now she has about 20 volunteers -- all church members -- who help at the Thursday evening sessions. About 15 kids usually show up, she says, and "we try to work one-on-one," But since it's impossible to determine how many kids will show up on a given week, she adds, "the biggest challenge is to be flexible."

Volunteers are dedicated to the program, Bishop says. "Some people will come straight from work with no dinner" to help. Their rewards? Seeing kids learn. Bishop says one of her most rewarding moments was hearing that a girl she had coached in math had been able to pass a math exam required for graduation in Maryland.

The children's parents often express their appreciation, as well, Bishop says. "The parents are so grateful that we're there. Some of them don't really know how to help their children. They're really struggling."

Like Bishop, Vivian Jackson is a professional teacher who wants to put her skills to use on a voluntary basis. But Jackson, who with one other volunteer helps kids each Monday at Temple Baptist Church in Baltimore, says volunteers need not have a teaching degree. "Every church has people who can help. Any adult can, and every adult should."

Since Temple's program began in 1993, Jackson has helped kids with "whatever assignment they have." But this year, she says, she wants to focus especially on tutoring kids in reading using Christian literature. "If children can't read, they're nowhere," she says.

Although there is "no pressure" for kids receiving the help to attend church, Jackson hopes they will see Christ in the love and service she tries to give them. "We can be Christlike when we work with anyone," she says.

The children more than reward those who help them, Jackson says. "Seeing children learn, seeing them smile, hearing them thank me and having them give me a hug -- that's all I need. You get a friend when you help a child."

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