They go even further than simply teaching the three R’s: Readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic.
At Grace Place in Golden Gate City, Fla., volunteers strive to teach at-risk and impoverished children and families the three basic L’s: Literacy, language and life skills.
“Golden Gate City had been identified as the biggest pocket of need outside of Immokalee,” in Southwest Florida, explains Stephanie Munz Campbell, the director of Grace Place. “It’s a very under-served area.”
After 20 years in Christian education, Stephanie felt God’s pull to reach out to this area of great need. Five years ago, when the struggling Golden Gate United Methodist Church closed, it provided a perfect location for the birth of Grace Place.
Five Methodist churches in the area came together to jointly fund and create what is now a vital outreach in the Golden Gate community.
The families served by Grace Place are generally the working poor. Statistically, more than 95 percent of people in the city live at or near the federal poverty threshold. More than 90 percent of Golden Gate residents only speak English as a second language, which can make helping with their children’s homework a chore. Educational resources are scarce, and often parents have to work extended hours. These youth often become victims of crime and have increased risk of early sexual activity and drug and alcohol abuse.
Grace Place strives to meet the needs of these children for free, by providing quality educational programs that foster children’s social, emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual development.
Their Bright Beginnings program recognizes that mothers are a child’s first teacher and equips mothers to stimulate their child’s education early on.
Grace Place’s after-school elementary tutoring program offers a safe and supportive learning environment for kids, and focuses on individual tutoring, reading skills and mentoring.
Summertime ushers in the Academic and Enrichment Day Camp, with full day remedial reading and math instruction, healthy meals, creative arts and sports, replete with field trips and music.
Adult ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) works with the Literacy Volunteers of Collier County to provide English classes and computer labs for adults in the area.
The Grace Place Food Pantry provides a simple bag of groceries, bread and fresh produce to families in need.
Special events take place throughout the year, such as holiday events, field trips and special speakers.
During the week, the sanctuary becomes classrooms, but on weekends it hosts several struggling church services.
Grace Place also quickly became a United Way partner agency.
“United Way was very interested in helping someone do something in this area,” Stephanie recalls.
The biggest boon to Grace Place’s cause is the wealth of volunteers.
“This community is full of retired teachers and professionals,” Stephanie notes, and this has been extremely helpful in the literacy and reading programs.
In the food pantry, Don Grandi, volunteer and member of the board of directors, got involved saying, “I just heard there was a need.”
He recounts a conversation with an area teacher who mentioned that kids sometimes came up and asked for a bite of his sandwich, because they were hungry. He works at the center one or two times a week, and is a member of First Presbyterian of Naples.
Marian Miller says, “Our church, Wesley Methodist, supports Grace Place heavily.”
She helps with the food pantry and reads to the children in the book corner while their parents come in to receive groceries.
In 2010, they plan to purchase the buildings and land for Grace Place, then renovate or add on as needed.
Stephanie says she is thrilled to see how Grace Place has taken firm root in the area it serves.
“We’re starting to penetrate the neighborhood in a salt-yeast-light sort of way,” she says. “People say to us, ‘You’re changing our neighborhood!'”
For information, visit GracePlaceNaples.org or call 239-455-2707.