“They say one person can’t change the world. One person is changing the world – each child’s world that has a mentor is being changed." I sat across from Cami Sears, listening to all that God is doing through Kids Hope USA, and quickly learned this outreach is much more than just giving kids hope…
Cami started helping at Kiser PreK-8 School, responding to a need for tutors which Randy Chestnut brought before the Apex family. She jumped in to meet with slow readers twice a week, encouraging them in their reading skills and hoping to make a difference in the lives of just those few. She would soon see God had much bigger plans.
Cami’s first steps into the school were not met with overwhelming excitement, friendliness, nor appreciation. It didn’t feel like many cared they were there. But to Cami that didn’t matter. “I prayed, Lord, I want you to put me in a place where You’re glorified, not me.” And that prayer would eventually bear fruit. While working with troubled readers, Cami spotted common mistake patterns and began correcting them. It wasn’t long before teachers noticed quick progress and improved reading scores. Students saw their reading scores climb and got excited. Appreciation replaced indifference and suspicion, and the teachers began looking forward to seeing Cami and the other volunteer tutors -- now greeting them in the hallway. Hope began to spring. Connections were being made. God was beginning to work in hearts – but not just in the hearts of the kids.
“You’re only working with these kids for an hour; how are you able to connect with them?” one teacher asked Cami. “Well, we pray in the car before we come in,” Cami simply replied. The teacher responded with a disbelieving chuckle, “Perhaps I should start praying in the car before coming in!”
Kiser PK-8 school is not your typical American public school. Located in an impoverished neighborhood, nearly one-third of the students are Ahiska Turks who were brought to Dayton. As relatives joined that small community, it grew to become the largest Ahiska Turk population in the United States with over 5,000. Ninety-nine percent of the Ahiskas are Muslim. Other students at Kiser are from Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Africa, and Nepal. Connection making and trust building with students of any nationality takes time and can be punctuated with cultural mishaps. But those are seldom roadblocks. Often, they can be looked back upon as bridges built through shared surprise, humor, and adaptability.
After Cami’s first year, job restraints prohibited several volunteers from returning. When she returned, a teacher who had observed the progress she made with students requested her as a volunteer. It was the same teacher who earlier inquired about how the volunteer team was so successful in reaching the kids!
After Cami’s 2nd year, Megan*, the site coordinator, pulled her into the office to ask her why she gave of her time so generously. Cami replied that she had a passion for being there, and felt the Lord led her there to serve.
“Well, besides the whole God and Church thing,” Megan* persisted, uninterested in that part, “Why are you here?”
Clearly God was beginning to work in more than just the student’s hearts. In the spring of Cami’s third year, Randy introduced her to a program called Kid’s Hope, and asked if she would help him bring it to Kiser. After attending the weekend training, she was hooked. It wasn’t long before he gave her the reigns of being Director.
After coming back in the fourth year and bringing the Kids Hope Program, Megan* confided how various organizations had come and gone, with some lasting only six months at the school. She took note of Cami’s consistency in coming, in bringing other people – and now bringing the Kids Hope program. Again came the question, “Why?” Again came the answer. “This is what Jesus has called me to do.” The answer still baffled Megan*.
As several other Apexers became mentors, Megan* soon found herself surrounded by Christ followers who befriended her– so much so, she went on a missions trip last summer with Back2Back Ministries and was deeply moved when money had been donated to help pay her way! God was once again offering hope to more than just the students.
Although the Kids Hope ministry at Kiser is based on the premise of “one,” the impact has been exponential. “Kid’s Hope USA is designed where one church adopts one school, and you work with one child for one hour, one time each week during one school year,” Cami shared. Kiser PreK-8 school has been officially adopted by Apex.
“As a mentor, you are trained and given a bag containing tools and learning games to help when working with your child. Out of the hour spent, you might do twenty minutes of school work -- but that can vary. You just have to spend time with the child to see how it’s going to go,” Cami explained. She then shared how most of the children have either a deceased or incarcerated parent, or parents that have abandoned them. Add to that instability the weight of poverty. Cami’s heart became full as she continued. “Just seeing what one person can do in the life of these kids…. <voice cracked> Sorry. I’ve just seen so many of these kids connect with their mentors. Sometimes I wonder how they can even focus on their work because they have so many things on their mind. And to have this hour with just an adult’s attention is really powerful.”
Cami expressed how Kids Hope is not only a ministry to the children but to the entire building and staff. From hosting a special Teacher Breakfast to honoring teachers with Teacher’s Week, these small gestures have had a huge impact. One such gesture involved a small handmade gift that was created and presented to the teacher by both mentor and child. Not only did this bless the teachers, but it enabled students the opportunity to serve others and experience gratitude – a new experience for many of them.
So what happens at the end of the school year? The students are never told their mentor is coming back the following year, as it is only a one-year commitment and life circumstances can change. However, when students learn their mentor is back for them, their eyes dance with great excitement. Those who may have lost their mentor become the priority and are matched first with a new mentor. If there are enough new mentors, other children can then be brought into the program. One child – one mentor. Cami smiled as she shared, “Now that Kids Hope is known to be in the building, children swarm me asking, ‘Do you have someone for me?’”
“They say one person can’t change the world. One person is changing the world – each child’s world that has a mentor is being changed.” One hour – one time a week.
*Name has been changed for privacy
Author: Jackie Perseghetti
Photographer: Sarah Maigur