Each Sunday afternoon, 25 middle school students put away their basketballs, roller blades and homework and come back to First Baptist Church in Decatur, Alabama. These youth are a part of a group called Youth on Mission, and they take their volunteer service seriously. They have made a long-term commitment to tutor children who need extra academic help. Their undertaking demands time, energy and heart.
The tutoring vans arrive at 4:45, and students from Leon Sheffield arrive at the church. The First Baptist students are partnered with a younger child and the pair goes off to read books, work math problems and memorize spelling words. Adults are present during the tutoring sessions to assist with questions or discipline; but except in special circumstances, the middle school student does the teaching.
In addition to the academic help, the middle school students provide the elementary children with on-going friendship and the positive role model of an older student, who is interested in doing well and working hard to achieve academic success. Unfortunately, some of the children who come to be tutored have had unstable backgrounds. Some have been living in a succession of foster homes and even changing schools. For those children, the middle school students’ time with the youth is especially important. They are more than tutors or even friends. The middle school students become a constant in a hurting child’s otherwise chaotic life.
During November and December of 2000, the middle school students and the Leon Sheffield students combined their voices to create a Christmas production. They sang for parents, friends and others who attended a Sunday evening worship service at First Baptist Church.
At the end of each school year, the First Baptist Youth on Mission students recognize the students from Leon Sheffield. They present a trophy to the students that recognize the child’s commitment to academics, which was demonstrated by their consistent attendance at tutoring. During the summer months, several of the Youth on Mission students help staff a weeklong sports camp that is held in the church’s gym. Students who regularly attend the tutoring program are invited to the camp. Youth on Mission students play basketball, run relay races, assist with crafts and do whatever else is necessary to make this special week a success.
The work of students from Leon Sheffield and other elementary schools follows the school calendar, and they meet when school is in session. This particular program began three years ago and many of the Youth on Mission students have participated since the beginning. Others have graduated from the program but still come back and work with the students. Several of the students tutored have been involved during the entire three-year period, and the tutors as well as those being tutored form lasting bonds with each other.