Riverside Elementary School Principal Vicki Underwood was aware of the successful Kids Hope USA mentoring program and when she contacted Connie Lawson, Underwood learned that Waterbrook Community Church was seeking a school partner. Lawson, now Kids Hope USA ambassador for South Carolina, was a founder of the program pairing adult mentors of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, North Myrtle Beach, and children at Loris Elementary School.
The Loris-St. Stephen’s program has had great success over four school years. The 32 adult mentors made 1,024 visits to the Loris school to spend one-on-one time with youngsters considered at-risk. Loris Elementary principals Mark Porter, now at North Myrtle Beach Middle School, and Angelia Gore are more than pleased with the positive results from the mentoring which is based on the concept of “one church, one school, one child, one hour.”
Waterbrook Community Church Elder Larry Jones and his wife Julie are just back from two days of intensive training in Atlanta with two dozen other church directors for Kids Hope programs, now operating in 33 states and helping an estimated 15,000 children. Nearly 1,000 Christian churches of more than 30 denominations provide trained adult mentors and behind-the-scenes prayer partners.
Larry Jones says “the Lord put the light on in my head” when he was helping in a Waterbrook ministry at J. Reuben Long Detention Center and a 21-year-old who had been in 13 foster homes said he could not relate to “dad” or “mom” or even caregiver. Julie Jones is a teacher at Loris Elementary and was impressed with one of the mentors from St. Stephen’s.
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Larry Jones made a brief presentation to the Waterbrook congregation during Sunday worship and immediately had 40 volunteers to be mentors and a volunteer to coordinate the prayer group. “Our church really loves to serve,” he says. “What we have to do first is screen the volunteers, then one-on-one interviews.” He anticipates group training for mentors next month, “then matching mentors with kids who need them” and beginning the mentoring in October.
Riverside Elementary School is in a major transition as are the former North Myrtle Beach Primary and Intermediate buildings, now Ocean Drive and Waterway. Pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade pupils formerly attended primary school for Pre-K, K, and first-grade; elementary school on Route 57 for 2nd and 3rd grades, then Intermediate for fourth- and fifth-grades. Starting this school year, the three buildings will have Pre-K through fifth-grade.
An educator for 35 years, beginning as a physical education teacher in her native Florence, Underwood has been at Riverside for nine years. She is excited about both the school’s transition and the start of Kids Hope. She sees no problem finding children for 40 mentors and feels every child could benefit from mentoring, regardless of family circumstances.
Pairing Waterbrook Community Church and Riverside Elementary is a providential match, Kids Hope ambassador Lawson says. “I believe thoroughly that God’s hands were all over it.”