Academics Count

Elementary students Daniel Jaramillo and Mia Davila work with tutor Jeannette Macha during the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church After School Program Monday. Immediatley after arrival, students begin working on homework, a priority of the program. Since its inception in 1990, the program has serviced approximately 900 children in El Campo. Providing care,nutritious snacks and homework help free of charge. Director Niesha Brown believes in the importance of free after school programs like the one at Pilgrim Rest because it bridges the gap between supervised care at school and the time that parents get off work each evening. The kids stay motivated and stimulated in those after school hours while also staying out of trouble.

Created by the Rev. Edward O. Sanford Jr. in 1990 with the mindset of “if you see a need, fill a need,” Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church has been doing just that for more than 30 years, providing free after-school programming to those who benefit from it most.

Under the leadership of Niesha Brown, the church’s After School Activities Program is coming back strong in the face of setbacks due to COVID. Sanitation procedures are rigorous, masks are non-negotiable and vaccination of adult volunteers is required. Brown is doing everything possible to keep students safe while also providing the needed support and direction.

Originally funded through grants, the program is currently supported completely by the community, including churches and the local Pilot Club. While Brown hopes to again in the future be awarded a Prevention and Intervention Grant through the Wharton County Juvenile Probation Department, at the moment they’re making ends meet through the goodness of community donations. Long term dreams of the program include reaching more students by eventually acquiring a multipurpose center or larger facility. Due to current space constraints and COVID precautions, students are being prioritized by need rather than the program daily servicing all 57 students on their roster.

“I just want them to see the potential they have. I know the importance of this program and what it did for me.” Brown said.

Brown herself is a product of the after school program and Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, as one of the first participants back when it was held on Monday and Wednesday afternoons in the 1990s. In the years since, the program has grown to a full week schedule and even has a partnership with the school district to transport students each day.

Brown and her volunteers provide a daily snack, homework assistance and other programs including community service programs for girls called PRETTY (Precious Resilient Talented Trained Young Ladies) and MACHO (Making A Change Helping Others) for the boys, gardening class, cooking demonstrations and a hygiene-focused health class. All this is done while maintaining a vision of academics by offering tutoring services, checking grades and holding students accountable all while developing supportive relationships.

“These kids, they’re polite and focused and it’s all thanks to Niesha,” Tish McAlister, retired school administrator and after school volunteer said.

 McAlister added that it has been a privilege to be able to come back to her roots, teaching and tutoring students in the afternoon while volunteering with the after school program.

Brown encourages volunteers to come see first-hand what they’re up to.

“The more they find out, the more they come out to help,” Brown said.

 Donations of time or funds can be arranged with Brown at

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