Editorial | Mentors from St. Stephen’s complete fourth year at Loris Elementary

Adult mentors from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, North Myrtle Beach and children from Loris Elementary School celebrated the fourth year of Kids Hope USA, a national program that pairs at at-risk public elementary school children with caring adults.

Peter Berthrong and Maggie Warren, co-directors of the program at St. Stephen’s, said the 32 mentors made 1,024 visits to Loris Elementary during the school year. The concept is “One church, one school, one child, one hour.” Typically, the trained mentors (and a behind-the-scenes prayer partner) visit a school in the church’s neighborhood or community. The unique St. Stephen’s-Loris relationship is because of the congregation’s outreach to the Loris area.

Of the 32 mentors, 19 have completed four years in the program. One of Berthrong’s concerns is to recruit more mentors so veterans can take a break –and because there are Loris Elementary children on a waiting list for a mentor. St. Stephen’s has about 250 members. Mentors include the Rev. Wilmot Merchant. Both co-directors have corporate management and training experience. They were mentors from the start of the program.

Loris Elementary principal Mark Porter has been more than pleased with the positive results –so much so that he helped arrange for Connie S. Lawson, Kids Hope USA ambassador for South Carolina, to speak to all Horry County elementary school principals. Lawson was a founder of the program at St. Stephen’s. Lawson says “out of [talking to the principals], I know I will have good news soon,” meaning an additional Kids Hope church-school partnership is close to starting in the area.

Lawson holds bragging rights for the first Kids Hope program in South Carolina, although a second one started close to the same time in Simpsonville. Others are in Florence and Port Royal. Kids Hope has 900 program in 33 states, helping an estimated 15,000 children. The nearly 1,000 Christian churches of more than 30 denominations range in size from 40 to 5,000 members.

Kids Hope began in 1995 with three pilot sites in Michigan after law enforcement, education, religion and human services professionals said trained church members forming one-to-one relationships with at-risk children “can make a profound difference in their lives.”

The experience can also make a difference in the lives of the mentors. Berthrong and Warren noted the extent to which mentors “have gotten involved with the kids and the school,” attending family reading night and other after-school activities. Porter, a dedicated and dynamic educator, “is such a stellar individual,” Warren says.

Berthrong says the Loris “staff is just inoculated with” Porter’s spirit. “You know there’s something different when you first pull up and you see kids arriving being greeted by the principal.”

Porter has a new assignment as principal at North Myrtle Beach Middle School and Berthrong and Warren are delighted that Angelia Gore, who has been vice principal, will be in the principal’s job and they feel the mentoring program will continue to thrive.

Kids Hope, such a success at Loris Elementary, could be a vital outreach for other area churches wishing to make a positive impact in their communities.