"Nothing you do for a child is ever wasted."
The Reverend Ron Tippens (“Pastor Ron”) of Albemarle Road Presbyterian Church offered up this Garrison Keillor quote as a way to express why his church feels called to support the children and families of their neighboring school, Albemarle Road Elementary. The church has volunteered at the school for many years, but last year had a vision of how they might have an even greater impact. That's when they reached out to Maritza Whitesell, CIS Site Coordinator at Albemarle Road Elementary, and invited her to a meeting.
After much discussion and months of planning, “The Bridge” after-school program was born. Every Thursday from 3:00 – 5:00 pm, church members meet students at the school and walk them over to the church’s Life Center. The program’s main focus is tutoring, but first students receive a nutritious snack, including a sandwich, fruit or vegetable, and juice or water. The church recruited several Charlotte Eagles soccer players who live nearby to provide 30 minutes of recreation, too, either soccer, basketball, or other sports activities. At 4:00, students go to their designated tutoring classrooms to meet one-on-one with their assigned tutor – all volunteer church members – to receive homework help and additional tutoring. At 5:00, church members walk students home to a nearby apartment complex if their parents are unable to pick them up.
Church member Brenley Ogden is The Bridge’s lead coordinator. She worked diligently over the summer to recruit 15 church members who would commit to volunteering every week for the entire school year, so that every student would have his or her own individual tutor. At the same time, Maritza was promoting the new program to families at the school to fill the 15 available “slots.” Other church members volunteer by providing the snacks, supplies, or helping the Charlotte Eagles with the recreational activities. In addition to Maritza, the associate pastor’s wife speaks Spanish and is often there helping with translation between parents, students, and church members. Maritza also asked Michelle Price, CIS Site Coordinator at Albemarle Road Middle School, to recruit some middle school students to be “assistants.” Two middle school students and one CIS high school student are faithful helpers each week.
The Bridge kicked off on September 19 and is going strong. It is a busy, noisy place this Thursday evening, with kids’ laughter filling the hallway. The students have given Spanish names to all the volunteers.
“The demographics of the neighborhood have changed so much in the last decade, and most of our church members don’t live nearby anymore,” said Pastor Ron. “But we’ve seen the need, right here at our back door. We really wanted the students and families to know that we’re not some indifferent group of people, set apart – but that we are here for them, that we are their friends. As it turns out, they’re making the difference for us – they’ve brought life to our church.”