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Palatka church teaches kids keys to succeed

Palatka church teaches kids keys to succeed

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Palatka church teaches kids keys to succeed

Jan. 11, 2007    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0603}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

Churches of all sizes and shapes make it a priority to reach out to children and youth in their communities. This story is the first of three focusing on churches reaching out in their own unique ways to the young people around them.

It’s been said that great things come from small beginnings. Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Palatka, Fla., has less than 40 members and yet it is launching youth programs that are positively affecting the entire school system and local community.

Dr. Errol Findlater, a prominent local surgeon, and Emmanuel’s pastor, the Rev. Zion D’Jatar, are men with a vision to alter the bleak future of kids caught in the cycle of poverty, crime and hopelessness.

“We are predominantly a black church in a black neighborhood,” Findlater explains. “A lot of the kids in this area have fallen behind. They are kinetic learners in a state school system that is a visual- and audio-based education. These kids need someone to teach them, to reach them in a way they can understand. We want to help them learn the skills they need to be successful in life.”

To that end Findlater and D’Jatar teamed up to launch Project Reach, an educational outreach, and North Point Youth Ministry, a sports-based outreach in Palatka, an area where more than 60 percent of families are single parent families. Many of these families live at poverty level.

Focusing on education

“Project Reach is an after-school program which serves 76 children,” Findlater explains. “The children are picked up at the school, given a snack and are in the learning center from 3:30 to 5 p.m. where they complete homework assignments and prepare for FCAT.”

D’Jatar says every child in the program is thoroughly evaluated so “we can understand their educational need and current level.”

Students participating in Emmanuel United Methodist Church's Project Reach program take a break from studying to pose for the camera. Photo by Thomas Routzong, Photo #07-502. Web photo only.

“Many of these kids operate from vocabularies and skills that are extremely limited,” he said. “We assess the kids, work with them and help them gain the skills they need to succeed. Not everyone else does, but we want them to succeed.”

Though the church may be limited in its resources because of it’s small size, its members know God is not. Miracle after miracle has occurred to supply them with the tools they need to reach the community’s kids.

“I needed a place to teach kids,” D’Jatar said. “I spoke to a group of men about our vision to reach kids and afterward a man came up to me and handed me the keys to a building! It was the building that was for sale just across the street from the church. We have been able to use this building rent-free.”

D’Jatar said the same happened when he needed computers. “A local military base had just purchased all new computers, and they offered us all the computers that had been replaced. We were given computers and monitors and everything,” he said. “We were even able to take some of these computers and give them away ourselves to other agencies that were in need.”

A key component of Project Youth is that it is success oriented, according to D’Jatar. The youth are given goals in each educational area. Then, they are mentored, tutored, encouraged and educated to achieve success in those areas, one at a time.

If a student is having difficulty with a certain word, for example, that word will be documented and written on a card that is placed in the student’s reading folder. The student will work on that word repeatedly until he is able to spell it, comprehend it, and use it in a sentence easily. Once the goal is achieved and the student has learned to succeed in the challenge of that word, the student and mentor celebrate the student’s success by actually tearing up the card and throwing it away as a symbol of conquering that challenge.

Each and every success is documented in each student’s file. D’Jatar and Findlater say the kids learn to succeed one word and one skill at a time.

Connecting through sports

North Point Youth is a sports-based outreach developed as a result of Findlater’s experience as a coach. “I have always coached soccer and basketball since moving to Palatka,” he said. “I am aware of the great influence a coach has on his players.”

Findlater decided to use that influence to establish relationships with local children, with specific goals in mind. “I could have the opportunity to share Jesus with them. We could raise another generation of believers. We could influence the young adults in the community because we knew them when they were young. Children in the neighborhood would exert positive peer pressure. Teach them love, sacrifice and discipline: staying on task until the task is completed.”

More than 35 youth referred by area schools participate in Emmanuel United Methodist Church's sports outreach, which includes requirements to also participate in worship and Bible study at the church. Photo by Thomas Routzong, Photo #07-503. Web photo only.

The ministry meets at Jenkins Middle School, just around the corner from the area’s subsidized housing. Eleven students dealing with behavior challenges were referred to Findlater from the guidance counselors at just one school and meet with him on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. for his basketball-based mentoring. Another 14 third- to sixth-grade students meet with him at 4 p.m. Yet another 11 students participate in his soccer-based mentoring program.

Each participant must meet a high standard set by Findlater. Participation is based on church attendance and good behavior at home and school. Students are actually graded by Findlater on these standards. “We have Bible study, life lessons, nursing home visits, after-school tours and college tours. They have to attend church or Bible study to participate.”

He hopes to eventually launch a statewide church basketball league.

The outreach to youth continues at the church. “We have decided to start a youth church so that they will have our full attention on Sundays,” Findlater said. “The need is overwhelming. Our youth are growing up without Christian values and without the ability to form strong personal relationships. They are disconnected from each other, and they do not see each other as valuable or precious. This affects all of society and our future.”

“God is doing great things, but there are still great needs,” D’Jatar adds. “The curriculum we use to reach these kids costs over $6,000. We are asking people to pray for us. ... Remember us in your prayers from 3 to 5 p.m. each afternoon. Keep us covered in prayer. We are also looking for people to financially support us as a mission. Every dollar helps us reach kids and give them the skills they need to succeed. God loves these kids and wants them to fulfill their potential.”

More information on the North Point Youth ministry is available online at Emmanuel United Methodist Church can be reached at 386-325-5496.


This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a freelance writer based in Beverly Hills, Fla. His columns appear in the Naples Sun Times newspaper and Faith & Tennis magazine.