Northwest Valley Tutoring Program Brings Hope to Underserved Youth
No one has come through this pandemic unscathed and in many communities, the children are impacted the most—especially in low-income areas where resources are thin.
At the Northwest Valley Corps in Surprise, Arizona, Captains Mark and Kathy Merritt observed the huge toll that the pandemic was having on the youth in their area.
“It’s important to prioritize our youth and what they’re learning because they have lost so much in the last year,” said Kathy Merritt.
“Not only have they lost the fellowship of being with their friends, sitting in the classroom and having personal connection, but they have lost their spiritual connection with the church being closed. We help fill those voids: spiritual, societal, emotional and educational.”
They decided to tackle the educational void by starting a tutoring program in the local neighborhood park. Kids can walk to the park and sit down at outdoor tables or go into the clubhouse to get tutoring help in practically any subject.
Youth Pastor Patrick Brown was hired last summer at the Northwest Valley Corps to help foster the mental, emotional and spiritual development of the next generation.
As a former educator, Brown reached out to a couple of schools he had worked for to find tutors, and made flyers for the program, which he posted out in the neighborhood. He recruited three retired teachers, a couple college students and his mother to come support the program.
“I started out as a special education teacher and director. After COVID-19 hit, I moved from that position to become a youth pastor,” said Brown. “I used to be a coach, and the kids were going through a tough time emotionally. I was so limited by the school system on how I could help them.”
As soon as the youth pastor role was posted at Northwest Valley Corps, Patrick immediately applied.
“This position came up at the exact right time when I was looking for another job,” Brown continued. “I ended up having six students and athletes of mine that took their own lives last year. I wasn’t allowed to tell them that God loves them. That was the final straw for me.”
About 45 students have been coming each week consistently since the tutoring program began in March of this year. Some days up to 70 students have attended. Most schools in Arizona are still on the hybrid model and many students are being graded poorly on their computer skills at home. They don’t often know how to get help in this area, and are afraid to ask their overburdened teachers.
“I am really bad with computers and I was failing all my classes,” said Michael Pacheco, a sophomore at Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, Arizona. “I was able to bring up my grades through The Salvation Army’s tutoring program.”
Bilingual students like Pacheco have faced unique challenges online as well.
“English has been the hardest subject for me—I struggle with typing and reading,” said Pacheco. “I struggle with spelling, speaking and pronunciation because Spanish is my first language.”
Pacheco has found a great community of peers in this program and in the youth group at the church, fulfilling his desire for social interaction and making new friends.
“When school started again this year, I was online. In January, I was struggling to make friends. My social skills were bad. I didn’t know how to talk to people,” said Pacheco.
Now he is surrounded by a healthy, uplifting community and his family has seen a positive difference in his demeanor, behavior and grades.
Beyond tutoring, the Northwest Valley Corps has food, games, and a fun, devotional message they share with the youth. Most of all, it’s a safe space for kids. Some students come to hang out even if they don’t need homework help.
The corps invested in new screens and video games, sports equipment and flexible seating this year to help create an inviting atmosphere for the students.
“Some kids that are hyper and cannot focus on school will calm down in a different chair. That’s why flexible seating is important. The Captains have said, ‘Go for it!’ when it comes to buying new things for the youth center. I’ve had administration in schools that have not been as supportive,” said Brown.
Merritt has seen the positive impact this program is having on the students in just a few short months. They have a renewed vigor for learning and hope is back in their eyes.
“I’ve seen a change in the kids when we do tutoring. They are excited and they want to ask and learn,” said Merritt. I haven’t seen kids so excited to learn in a long time!”
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