An Alamance County church makes a big difference in the lives of neighborhood children.
In mid-January, the Southern Education Foundation reported a statistic that astonished many across the country: for the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school children come families in poverty.
According to data collected in 2013, the report found that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade were eligible for the federal government’s free and reduced-price lunch program.
“When [my students] first come in my door in the morning, the first thing I do is an inventory of immediate needs,” Sonya Romero-Smith, an elementary teacher from Albuquerque, NM told The Washington Post. “Did you eat? Are you clean? A big part of my job is making them feel safe.”
The data shows that some of the highest concentrations of impoverished children reside in the southern United States—including North Carolina.
That’s where St. Andrew’s Episcopal in Haw River found an opportunity.
“In my interview [with the church], they asked about working with the neighbors in the trailer park,” the Rev. Miriam Saxon said in a video interview published by the Diocese of North Carolina and part of a series called “Going to Galilee with Bishop Anne.”
“So we started playing with ideas. St. Andrew’s started a community garden two or three years ago—but wanted to reach out all year long to the neighbors.”
The parish hosted a summer camp for the children who lived in the park, which was directly across from the church. But as summer turned into fall, a new need came to the forefront for the neighborhood children.
“They really needed help with homework as the school year started,” Rev. Saxon said. “Their parents were either working all the time, or they don’t speak English well enough to help them.”
Homework Helpers came next.
The church found a few volunteers to meet with the students outside on a wooden picnic table in the church yard to go over homework problems and tutor them.
“We felt like we were more visible , and that parents were more willing to let their children come outside with us,” she continued. “We’re doing this totally on a shoestring,” the Rev. Jan Lamb, deacon at St. Andrews added. “There was not a dime spent in order to set this program up. We have volunteers and we have volunteered materials.”
The program reaches beyond children, though. Recently, a grandfather came over with one of the students, a big grin on his face. He had homework, too—paperwork to help him become a citizen of the United States.
“One of the exciting pieces about this is that we have a number of children’s books that were donated to us, so that when the kids come, they can pick out two books to take home and read,” Rev. Lamb said. “They have been faithful in bringing their books back, and they can’t wait to pick out new ones.”
Watch the full video here: