Sometimes part of my job is making kids cry.
No, it’s not in my job description, but it comes with the territory of managing STARS, Antioch’s mentoring program that matches volunteers from the church with kids in our neighborhood. Last week, my victim was Jessie.
For the past few weeks, Jessie and David, two second-grade boys, had been meeting with their mentor (a stay-at-home mom) for STARS Book Club. Once a week, they sit in the library over their thirty-minute lunch period and eat, talk and practice reading a book together.
“I’m sorry guys, but your mentor can’t come to book club today- her son is sick,” I told Jessie, as he chose between chicken nuggets and burritos in the cafeteria lunch line.
I didn’t really think it would be that big a deal if they missed a week- they only recently started book club, so I doubted they even remembered their mentor’s name. However, as I saw Jessie’s face scrunch up as he tried unsuccessfully to hold back tears, it hit me again:
this is such a big deal for these kids.
Having someone who comes to the school every week just for you, who believes in you, who laughs with you, who encourages you that you can make it and that you’re a good reader- it’s something many of these kids rarely experience, and it matters so much to them.
But more than that, it’s something they desperately need. Third-graders from low-income families who can’t read at grade level are eight times more likely never to graduate from high school. If you stood on top of our new church building and looked out over our neighborhood, that assessment would be true for most of the kids in the houses you’d see.
But this is where we, the church, are stepping in and saying, “Enough!” It’s where we are believing that God has more for these families than discouragement and failure, and where we’re putting our faith in action until we see that change happen. And that change has started, with now one hundred and twenty-two volunteers from our church meeting with over three hundred kids every week. It looks like that second-grader, Jessie, who is so impacted by his mentor that he cries when she can’t come. Or Kaye, a retiree, whose girls jumped up an entire grade level in their reading after just four months, taking them out of that eight-times-more-likely-never-to-graduate category. It looks like Carlos, who wrote to his mentor Sam, saying “You are like a big brother to me,” and the principal telling us the atmosphere at the school changed once we came in.
Some people think if you’re too spiritually minded you’re of no earthly good- yet we are seeing change in our community and our schools not in spite of our spiritual-mindedness, but because of it! Because we have encountered God and know He has good things for us, we are full of hope for the lives of those around us. Because we know that God is in the business of restoration, we seek restoration in every part of people’s lives. Because we believe that nothing is impossible for God, we pray for our community, get involved in people’s lives, serve them, love them and expect great things to happen.
James says, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:18b).
Our deeds are not a replacement for our faith, but a result of it! And I am full of hope for our community and our city, because day after day I see our people’s faith by their deeds, changing lives through their small, consistent acts of love (most of our mentors just meet with their kids for thirty minutes a week). So yes, sometimes I have to bear bad news that will make kids cry- but I am so encouraged that we, the church, are giving them something that’s worth crying about.
Learn more about STARS and apply to be a mentor here.
STARS is funded by TDFPS through Communities in Schools in the Heart of Texas.
By Michael Jeter, Assistant Director of STARS