Nurturing Elders: Tutoring connects church with the neighborhood

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By the Rev. Al Aosved | Photo courtesy of Wikipedia and Jesse N. Love

It is Thursday. Folks have been busy moving from room to room, picking up supplies, chatting with one another and disappearing down the hall to prepare for the students who will be coming. In the kitchen, the cooks are preparing after-school snacks and beginning to put together the dinner that will be served later.

Just before school gets out, the tutors leave the building and head up the hill to Crown Hill Elementary School. The dismissal bell rings and the tutors and students greet one another and together they begin their walk to the Bremerton United Methodist Church where the “after school” tutoring will take place. Since it is a one-on-one program, the tutors are able to sense what kind of day it has been for their student.

The snack time allows them to unwind from the day and relax a bit. Conversation is easy because of the relationship that has been established. Students can browse the books that are age-level appropriate. They can look for ones that fit their interest and take them home to read or begin to read them if there is no homework. Then it is time to get down to the business of “homework.” The tutors know what particular issues are important for the students because of communication with the teachers and staff at Crown Hill. Some work on their reading skills. Others practice their subtraction. The tutors create worksheets and fun activities to practice such a variety of skills. Some days seem more productive than others; but isn’t that the way that it is for all of us?

Dinner time provides a “kid friendly” meal for the whole family – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and extended family. It is a time of informal celebration and developing relationships with folks in the neighborhood. When the families leave, the church tutoring group talk with one another as they do the cleanup and look forward to the next week.

How did it happen? About eight years ago, the leadership of Bremerton UMC began asking what the needs were in the neighborhood. Pastor Marta Schellberg and Martha Alexander walked up to the Crown Hill Elementary School to talk with the Principal to get her take on the neighborhood. They came away with an understanding that some of the students needed more help with their schooling that was available at home.

Then the church began a time of discernment. Conversations began to focus on what we could do for these neighbor children – after all, we share a common property line with the school. Soon there was a volunteer group formed that was led by Joanie Hento. A plan of action developed. While the church provides the tutors, the students are recommended by the faculty of Crown Hill. Before the church knew it, a ministry was born.

The tutors are an amazing group of people. While there are a couple of retired teachers, an accountant, an engineer, a nurse, and business people who dedicate time and energy to make a difference across the generations – from recent college graduated to octogenarians.

It is amazing what happens when the church reaches out. Bremerton UMC has received grants from Kitsap Strong, the Westside Improvement Club and the Willow Foundation. Kitsap Strong is a county effort to help families and to coordinate county agencies to develop resiliency strategies for those in crisis.

The tutoring idea has taken root in the Port Orchard UMC with mid high/junior high students. Each program is developed by the needs that are discerned and the abilities and skills of the volunteers that are making a difference in the name of Christ. All it takes is a bit of love in action and the conviction that we can make a difference if we share across the generations.


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