Homework Central

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How one church is reaching children and families — one
assignment at a time

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Use this article as inspiration to model your own
test-time study hall or homework catch-up help for
kids.

“If our church ceased to exist tomorrow, would we be missed in
our community?” asked Scott Brewster of Central Church of Christ in
Findlay, Ohio.

That question had plagued this pastor so much that it took him
out the church doors and into the surrounding neighborhood.

“We want to show our city that we are like Jesus,” Brewster
says. “We are for them, and we want them to be successful. We want
them to know him, but first we have to gain their trust. One way to
their hearts is through helping the most important people in their
lives — their children.”

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As Brewster talked to the community, one man’s response of “you
could help my kids with their homework” made all the
difference.

Central Church of Christ’s staff brainstormed ideas that would
allow them to serve area families with homework assistance.

“We wanted to make a difference, and the after-school homework
assistance program was something that wasn’t being done in
Findlay,” explains Deb Troyer, Christian education director at
Central Church of Christ. “We knew that it was something that we,
as a church, could do for the neighborhood.”

Thus the program Homework Central was created.

Homework Central Structure
Monday through Thursday, the church opens its doors to Lincoln
Elementary School’s kindergarten through fifth-grade students
between the hours of 3:30 and 5 p.m. The children eat a healthy
snack; receive homework help; and participate in literacy, science,
and creative arts activities. The program is nondenominational and
operated completely by trained volunteers. It’s free of charge to
the families of the neighborhood public school.

When the pilot program began in January 2003, Homework Central
served 10 children. By the close of the 2003-2004 school year, more
than 53 students had participated in the program. And the majority
of those intended to use Homework Central’s assistance in the
upcoming school year.

“One of the major accomplishments of Homework Central is that it
has grown since its conception,” says Connie Ferguson, program
coordinator of Homework Central. “This has been primarily achieved
by word of mouth of the students themselves. Principal [Richard]
Dillon of Lincoln Elementary has shared with us that the most
ringing endorsement of our program is that the students want to be
at Homework Central.”

Homework Central Goals
Homework Central strives to improve the student’s academic
achievement by providing relationships with caring, competent, and
consistent tutors. Homework Central also provides enriching
learning activities in a safe and healthy environment.

“In today’s fast-paced world, families are finding it difficult
to juggle jobs, kids’ activities, and school and home
responsibilities. Homework Central’s mission is to reduce the
stress and time pressures that are eroding the quality of family
life,” Troyer says. “It helps when the homework is done and
children are getting reading help. It gives families more time to
be a family.”

The church formed the program with the understanding that
everyone, whether parents or not, influences the children within
their sphere of contact. Each one of us was shaped by adult
influences in our lives from infancy throughout childhood and into
our teenage years. Whether our experience was one of joy or abuse,
we were affected by it. Homework Central’s volunteers have accepted
the responsibility of sometimes being the only positive influence
in a Homework Central child’s life.

“Some of these children come from situations where at times
we’re the only adult one-on-one attention they receive,” Ferguson
explains. Homework Central wants to meet the children’s overall
developmental needs by building a strong sense of self through
meaningful relationships with kids’ peers and the tutors, as well
as opportunities to experience success by participating in fun
literacy activities.

Teachers have seen a positive change in students’ performance
since Homework Central opened its doors to Lincoln Elementary,
according to Principal Richard Dillon.

“The students thrive on individual attention, and they come to
school with completed homework — that makes everyone happy,” he
says.

Homework Central Mentors
Another accomplishment this program has experienced is the
mentoring relationships that’ve emerged between tutors and their
students. Currently there are about 30 tutors working with Homework
Central — varying from congregation members, to retired citizens,
to local high school students. The students benefit from the
individualized attention, allowing them to stay on task and receive
immediate feedback for their efforts.

According to Troyer, many children who attend the program come
from single-parent families or broken family situations that don’t
provide children with stable, ongoing assistance with their
academic work at home. In some cases, the tutor is the one
constant, affirming adult in their lives at the time.

To ensure that the student-to-tutor relationship becomes a
mentorship, Homework Central staff works at matching the
personality of the tutor to the student.

“We’ve learned from experience that if we take the time to study
our pairings of tutors with students, the tutoring experience is
more successful for both the tutor and the student,” Troyer
says.

“These children are seeing good role models, and we see how it
has already made a difference in their grades and attitudes and the
gratitude of their parents,” Brewster says.

After several months of attending the after-school program,
Homework Central volunteers see improvements in the students’ oral
reading abilities as well as an increase in their confidence level.
Students in the program become more willing to take risks and read
more challenging material.

As the children achieve success, participating in fun literacy
activities and completing their homework, Homework Central tutors
work to bolster the children’s self-confidence and sense of
self-worth.

“It’s easy to think of results — or that we should be improving
all the children’s grades,” Ferguson says. “But the administrators
at Lincoln Elementary tell us it is so much more than that; it is
the one-on-one time with a caring adult. We can’t measure the value
of giving these students a better sense of self.”

In his book Blessing Your Children, Jack Hayford
writes, “Too often we adults fail to realize the influence we have
upon children. That is amazing, especially in light of the fact
that each of us remembers vividly how the words and actions of
certain adults influenced us…Just one word — whether ill spoken or
perfectly timed — can leave an imprint on a child’s soul, an
imprint that colors a lifetime of future behavior for better or for
worse.”

Homework Central’s Connections
Principal Dillon feels that Homework Central supports everything
that the school works to accomplish in education.

“We want to make a positive difference in children’s lives.
Homework Central is an integral part of making that happen,” Dillon
says. “We want all children to succeed in school and in life.” As
the participating students’ principal, Dillon has been supportive
of the after-school program since it began in 2003.

“I thought it was a wonderful idea. It had a simple goal — they
wanted to create a fun and active environment where homework isn’t
a chore but a springboard for learning and where
out-of-the-ordinary activities will motivate children to read,
write, and create,” Dillon says.

Homework Central has gained not only the confidence and support
of Lincoln’s school administration but has also caught the
attention of other influential community organizations. The
Community Foundation gave Homework Central $2,000 for books and
educational materials through their HancockReads Grant Program –
marking the first time a faith-based organization has been the
selected recipient. As news of the program spread throughout the
community, other organizations such as the Findlay Service League,
the Ohio State 4-H Extension Office, and the Lincoln School PTO
donated funds to Homework Central.

“As our reputation of a caring church has grown, we’ve been
invited to participate in other charitable events and programs
within the community,” Troyer says.

Homework Central Eternal Assignment
While improving academics and increasing the children’s confidence
are the primary goals of Homework Central, Central Church of Christ
hopes that by reaching out to the community they may be planting
seeds that’ll bring children to know the Lord in the future.

“We’re just here to help with homework — we do not read Bible
stories or anything like that,” Troyer says. “If families like the
mentorship, encouragement, and help we provide and feel comfortable
with us as a church family, then they are always welcome.”

“Our focus is not to pack the pews,” Ferguson agrees. “We want
their families to know we care — we want our name out in the
community as a church that cares. Our mission is to show Jesus
through action. Seeds that we are planting may grow down the road.
If Homework Central brings even one child to Jesus, then it was
worth it.”

“The Central Church family has already begun to see the fruit of
their labor of love,” explains Troyer. “Several Homework Central
children are participating in youth group activities and special
summer events for elementary-age children. Nearly 20 Homework
Central kids attended the vacation Bible school program in June,
and for the first time, five Homework Central kids will be
attending church camp.”

“This is one of the most significant and fertile mission fields
in the nation,” Brewster says. With that in mind, Central Church of
Christ hopes to see other churches follow in their footsteps.

Homework Central Example
“Our ultimate dream is for other churches and organizations to
catch the vision, and that in the near future they will provide
additional after-school homework assistance sites for children
throughout our community and county,” Troyer says.

One of Central Church of Christ’s limitations is that they can
only serve children from Lincoln School.

“We don’t have enough tutors or space to service all of the
elementary schools in Findlay. This is why we hope other churches
will launch their own programs in their own neighborhoods,”
Ferguson says.

Several local churches have already begun working with Central
Church of Christ, and others have expressed an interest in learning
about the program.

“When God starts something, it has the momentum to go on without
the ones who start it. Others are excited about the dream of
helping all our kids,” Brewster says. “I think Homework Central
fits in this slot. Even if we change locations, we will still be
able to carry on and others will also.”

Churches wanting to reach out within their own community should
ask the question that Central Church of Christ began with: “If our
church ceased to exist tomorrow, would we be missed in our
community?”

To begin an outreach program, define what the community needs
are and where your congregation’s strengths lie. Then determine how
your congregation’s strengths can meet those needs.

“It is our hope and prayer that our program will inspire other
churches in our city to reach out within their own neighborhoods to
meet the needs of the families that live there,” Troyer says.
“Their programs should be unique to their own gifts and the needs
of the families around them.”CM

Bridget Campbell is a journalist in Findlay, Ohio.

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