Church Hill Activities & Tutoring
Builds Strong Children by
Instilling Valuable Life Skills
by Janna M HallWhen Frederick Douglass wrote these words in 1855, viagra stuff he sought a solution to the damaging ideology held by men who wanted to uphold slavery. It was their beliefs that led to a practice that destroyed families, see killed millions, and shaped the world as we know it today. Broken men, Douglass believed, are impossible to reach; they’re closed off to the idea of changing their ideologies and behavior. Their children, however, were our true saving grace. Children are the purest form of human life, and the key to building a future full of equality and promise. He believed that it’s imperative that we mold and shape our children into men and women who will make this world a better place before they become tainted by the evils of this world. Today, many children—both black and white—are products of the legacy those men left behind. That legacy, as we see in underserved communities, is systemic poverty and poor education, and breaking that curse and starting a new legacy begins with our youth.
Programs like CHAT accept Douglass’ charge to “build strong children.” Established in the early 2000s by Percy and Angie Strickland, Church Hill Activities & Tutoring (CHAT) sets out to empower youth to break cycles of poverty and reach their goals. “At the highest level, CHAT is a youth development program whose mission is to equip youth of the East End of Richmond to make transformative decisions,” explains Steven Weir, CHAT’s Executive Director. At every level, from preschool to their senior year in high school, staff and volunteers work with students to make sure they’re equipped to start school at the top of their kindergarten class and finish high school strong, with both study and workplace skills that’ll prepare them for the next level. You can’t be what you can’t see, and CHAT allows inner city youth to see their lives as one of purpose and promise through education and community.
CHAT’s volunteer and mentorship program allows Richmond’s youth to see beyond their circumstance and forge positive relationships that build character and shape a bright future. Initially, those relationships formed by way of fellowship and food in the Strickland’s own home, but as the program evolved, children grew comfortable enough to ask for help in specific areas of their lives. Frequent asks for homework assistance sparked a robust tutoring program led by the Stricklands and their founding board members. Soon, CHAT’s impact permeated the community, and the program had no choice but to expand into a program that met the various needs of the youth who frequented the home.
Today, CHAT’s mission is accomplished through four primary programs that shape youth at every level. Through their after-school program, 75 students from around the neighborhood are involved in a variety of engaging after-school activities. Next is the Church Hill Academy, a private high school for grades 9-12 that focuses on educating the “whole student” through academics, career preparation, life skill-building, economic literacy, and even spiritual development. The Tiny Tykes Preschool enrolls children from ages 2 ½ to kindergarten, and provides a nurturing environment that encourages learning through interactive play and exploration. What makes the Tiny Tykes Preschool exceptionally special is the commitment to diversity through their scholarship program. “Half of our students are on scholarship and half of them are not,” says Weir. “We manage them pretty tightly, and we do that so that we have a very diverse student body which also leads to a diverse set of parents. That’s a pretty powerful way for the community to come together.” Ultimately, the goal of the Tiny Tykes’ program is to have students transition into their public school’s kindergarten at the very top of their class. Lastly, the Work Leader Institute allows the older students to learn valuable life skills that prepare them for the workforce, completing everything from woodworking to screen printing.
In fact, an exciting addition to the CHAT organization is their marketplace, opening in 2017 on the corner of 26th street and Nine Mile Road. This retail space, developed in partnership with Bon Secours, takes the Work Leader Institute to another level by providing employment opportunities for the students. It is here that the youth will gain valuable work experience and have the opportunity to join the workforce while also developing those valuable life skills CHAT prioritizes. Weir explains that roughly 80% of the time, students will be doing “real work”: helping keep the marketplace up and running and interacting with customers, and the other 20% will be dedicated to receiving true job training. They’ll learn customer service skills, how to handle customer conflict, how to manage an inventory, and the ins and outs of managing a retail space.
Sara Pomeroy, Director of Strategic Relationships & Leadership Development, drives home the importance of prioritizing workplace skills among the older students. “If you stop at the after school tutoring but you don’t set them up for success in the workforce area, then they’re just right back to where they started,” she explains. “In order to really address the issue of poverty you have to give them opportunity to get out of poverty and out of the systemic issues that are here in this community. CHAT is comprehensively addressing all the needs that these kids have in order to truly see success in life: to get an education, to have family, and to get a job. It really takes a village to raise a kid.”
CHAT knows that developing well-rounded youth involves so much more than what happens in school and preparing them for the workforce. In fact, studies show that students who engage in extracurricular activities perform better academically. Knowing this, they offer a plethora of non-academic classes during what they call Wacky Wednesday. Those classes include cooking, dance, public speaking, workshop, sewing, and urban farming, to name a few. Providing students with the opportunity to engage in activities otherwise not available to them is what continues to establish CHAT as a critical component in the lives of underserved youth. They’re able to explore unconventional interests, find their niche, and nurture their passion at a young age, which opens them to a world beyond what’s familiar.
What truly makes this organization unique and special is that their programs cover the entire human experience. They go from trust building and fostering relationships to excelling academically, and extend beyond academics and extracurricular activities and workforce training. CHAT changes the lives of Church Hill’s youth every single day through the care, concern, and support of every student who walks through its doors, but their impact isn’t confined to the four walls of the Lighthouse. Neighborhood outreach events are an integral part of CHAT’s program, and they use exciting themed events and outings to engage the community. You can find them out and about during nearly every major holiday, and piquing local interests with events like their annual Pig Roast, Pinewood Derby, and outings to Pocahontas State Park and Virginia Beach.
Thanks to their dedicated staff, tutors, mentors, and volunteers, CHAT’s belief in the power of Christian fellowship does exactly what it sets out to do: transform communities at every level. Though systemic and structural injustice has plagued generations of underserved communities, CHAT’s commitment to Richmond-area youth ensures that there will be less “broken men,” and far more “strong children.”
Photos: Cheyenne Varner, Communication and Development Specialist