Approximately 13 youths from Redeemer Church (PCA) of Jackson, Mississippi loaded up their mission supplies and headed South about 70 miles to Mount Olive Ministries (MOM) for five days of summer tutoring, VBS, and small projects on June 4, 2012.
MOM’s Summer Enrichment Program provides tutoring and VBS for students “at risk” of academic failure and expand career options for students excelling in their education. Normally, the program is led by Tony and Shannon with the help of their children (Tony, Jr. and Mariah). Because funding is lacking, the enrollment was reduced from 125 to 50 students. The benefits of partnering with churches have led to providing much needed help to keep the program available, said Shannon Duckworth (Director of the Summer Enrichment Program). Mount Olive, a town of 965 people located in South Central Mississippi, is often referred to as “Mayberry” due to its peaceful tree-lined boulevard and congenial citizens. However, among the teens of the community, it is often referred to as “a place with nothing to do” and a “dead end.”
According to Ryan Dean (Youth Pastor at Redeemer Church), “I like to go places that already have established ministry, where our group is not inventing ministry but joining with an existing effort. I do this because I want our work to be sustainable, which only happens—I think—when we are working with people on the ground that will have ongoing relationships with those to whom we are ministering. This is a primary reason why we came to Mt. Olive.”
“It is an honor for me to have these churches volunteering their time for 5 to 7 days each week,” said Tony C. Duckworth, Sr. (President of Mount Olive Ministries). “Many of the kids participating in the program are coming from surrounding town seeking a safe haven during the summer. There are many questions lingering that exposes a major breakdown when a child fails without having a learning disability or a behavior problem.”
“It became clear very quickly that kids that I worked with did not suffer from a lack of intelligence or capability– they were very bright! Rather, their biggest inhibitor was a lack of self confidence and self discipline. Phrases such as “I’m dumb,” “I can’t,” and “I don’t know” were spoken with a matter-of-factness that broke my heart. I found myself viewing my job as a tutor with increasing emphasis on encouraging them and proving to them that they could be successful at school work, rather than focusing on helping them to get correct answers. More than anything, these children need people to invest in them as individuals– to instill them with a sense of value,” states Erin Hoover (Youth Leader assistant and a student at Belhaven University).
According to AJ Arnold (Redeemer Team member), “It was a great experience working with the kids. The work at the ministry to me was not at all difficult. Working with the kids and helping them learn was fun. Some examples are: playing math games, fun worksheets, or even a spelling bee. I would love to come back and work with Mount Olive Ministries anytime.”
“Bringing students, we intentionally chose small projects that would match their ability level. Our hope was to help and serve those truly in need…not to do for others what they could do for themselves. I sense that we accomplished that goal,” said Dean. “I am particularly struck by the dedication of the Duckworth family to their community (and it is significant that it is their community, having grown up in Mt. Olive). Rural communities suffer so often because gifted, dedicated native sons and daughters flee for the greener pastures of other cities. How noble that the Duckworth’s have been and are so committed to their “place!”
“May God bless these people!” states Hoover. “MOM is doing important work in the lives of these children–and they’re doing it with very few resources. MOM provides the kids in their program practice with academics during the school break, a safe place to play with friends, encouragement to praise the Lord in song and action, and a chance to interact with adults who can be role models for them. After seeing how they stretch a few books, worksheets, and pencils, I can only imagine how much they would appreciate enough books to go around, curriculum that was geared toward each age group, and additional supplies. MOM is a worthy organization to invest in because it invests so much in the community. I am in awe of what God is doing in Mount Olive through them.”
“I loved working with the kids. Some were more troubling than others, but they all gave me a hug goodbye so it was all worth it. I thoroughly enjoyed working there and would happily do it again,” said Emily Robertson (Redeemer Team member).
“My hope is that we have served not only the students, but also the Duckworth’s, that our being here this week has lightened their burden,” said Dean.
“As always on the last day for the volunteer groups, the kids get emotional to say their good-byes and wait patiently for next year with the hope of seeing them again. Most of the older teenagers exchange network communications (emails, facebook, and cell phone numbers) to maintain a mentoring relationship. The partnerships have become a win-win for our students. The student relationships have strengthened our kids’ attitude to pursue a college education. Shannon and I are thankful that Redeemer chose to volunteer their time to help us serve others,” said Duckworth, Sr.