Homework Time

Children attending Pilgrim Rest’s After School Activities Program get right to work on studies with the help of local volunteers who tutor the students three days a week. The program is free with funds received through a grant from the Texas Juvenile Probation Department, which now is being cut because of budget cuts due fo the coronavirus. The program needs help from the community to continue operating and providing these free services that keep kids off the streets and out of trouble. Pictured in this 2018 photo at left is Hannah Foley and at right is Qu’Marr Armstrong and next to Foley is Director Niesha Brown.

For 30 years now, volunteers of the After School Activities Program (ASAP) at Pilgrim Rest Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church in El Campo, have been helping school-age children free of charge. As the vision of the late Rev. Edward O. Sanford Jr., the program that began in 1990 offering tutoring for ECISD students is now in jeopardy.

Funded strictly by donations and grants, the program will be cut short this school year as a grant from the Texas Juvenile Probation Department, which in part supports the program, will no longer be available by the end of this month.

“The state has decided that the Prevention and Intervention Program funds will be taken away,” Chief Juvenile Probation Officer for Wharton County Billie Jean Bram said. “This program has grown and has become a great benefit to the families it serves.”

Bram, who hopes others in the community, both individuals and businesses, will step forward to assist with funding of this vital program, is hopeful that it will continue as a free program.

“This program has operated free since 1990. I won’t allow COVID to shut it down. It’s needed far too much,” Niesha Brown added.

Brown, who serves as a volunteer and director of the program, explains why ASAP is so important.

“The goal of ASAP is to provide community-based prevention and intervention programs and services intended to prevent and/or intervene in behaviors that put youth at-risk of involvement with the juvenile justice system,” she said. “Many of the kids who attend are considered latch key kids because their parents are often working when they get out of school. These are times when many kids are roaming the street looking for trouble.”

In the beginning, ASAP served as an after school tutorial program, but has transitioned into a mentoring program as well.

“When a child signs up, their parent gives me permission to get a copy of their progress reports and report card from school and speak to the teachers on their behalf,” Brown said.

This gives her permission to step in to help when a student has a grade of 72 or below in a class or subject.

“I’m able to contact their teacher to see what we can do on our end to help them,” she said. “In the past I’ve had teachers send over extra assignments, missing assignments, links to online tutoring or they invite me to campus to see for myself why grades are like they are.”

The district buses students from each campus to the church where students are fed and work on their studies.

“When they get there we serve them a snack and they get straight to it,” she said.

According to Bram, the county’s Juvenile Probation Department is awarded a grant from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to help fund the existing program.

“While we do not fund it 100 percent, we do help out with areas that need to be funded such as paying towards utilities, supplies and so forth,” she said.

Through a written grant proposal, Bram’s department must apply for funds each year.

“During this pandemic the state of Texas has asked each agency to cut their funding by five percent,” Bram said.

Brown says the cut in funds will hurt the program.

“It affects us tremendously as far as our daily operations go,” Brown said. “The money that comes in takes care of all costs associated with the program. Although we are housed inside of Pilgrim Rest, the program is responsible for half of all bills since we use the facility more than the church.”

Taking a leap of faith, Brown says plans are to move forward.

“We will be doing the program this year, but we will have to be mindful of the situation,” Brown said. “Until today, we were unaware of what the school district would decide as far as returning to campus. I decided to implement a learning pod type of option for some of our students. It is our plan to meet with the incoming superintendent to introduce our program to them. The previous superintendent, Mrs. Waters, assisted us tremendously with our program. We would like to explain to them what our program does and how it can continue to be an asset to ECISD. As far as funding, we are seeking donations.”

Plans are to implement a sponsorship program that would allow individuals or businesses to commit to donating a sum each month in an effort to continue to offer the program free of charge to ECISD students.

“We are needing to get the word out that we need sponsorships to help the program keep running at the level we have it now,” Bram added. “This program is free to the families it serves. The youth who come to this program would not be attending the Boys and Girls Club, they would be latch key kids.”

“We are working on letters that will be sent out to local businesses and other churches seeking monthly sponsorships on tier levels,” Brown added. “Any sponsor would be recognized.”

Additional funds are also raised with fundraisers throughout the school year.

“While they are here with us we’re not only working on homework but we build a trusting relationship with these kids,” Brown said. “They look at us as extended members of their families and we feel the same.”

ASAP reaches from 175 to almost 200 students each school year during the three-day per week program.

“This program is important for El Campo simply because it helps build productive youth who will be members of this society,” Brown said. “We not only help them with homework but we teach them life skills and how to be productive young women and men.”

Those interested in making a donation may make a check payable to Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church with “ASAP” in the memo and mail to: P.O. Box 525, El Campo, TX. 77437. For questions, call Brown at 713-480-5245.

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