Read to Lead Highlight:

December 14th, 2017

The View from the Choir Director’s Podium

My name is Jennifer, and I work as the Development Assistant here at the Bethlehem Center.  Years ago I taught choir and music classes in the public school system so I was excited to be asked to also serve as the music teacher and choir director for the Read to Lead Academy. 

 We launched our music classes in September for grades K-5 and held auditions for choir for grades K-8.  The kids and I sang and danced our way through some upbeat Praise & Worship songs, and the 12 member choir worked on learning some more vocally challenging pieces.

The students seemed to be enjoying themselves, but I knew I didn’t have their full attention.  The Christmas season was approaching, and I made it my mission to find some songs that would be irresistible.  The songs had to be energetic and engaging.  The first week of November when I introduced “Hip Hop Reindeer” and “Jingle Jive” the children immediately responded to the peppy holiday music.  

We wiggled and giggled and jammed and jingled. The shy and reluctant singers found themselves drawn into the festive sounds of the music tracks. They laughed at their silly teacher as I danced right along with them.

While preparing for our performance at the Tri-Octaves Christmas Concert at Christ UMC, the students enjoyed the holiday songs so much that I had more and more requests from them asking, “Can I please join the choir, Miss Jennifer?”  Previously hesitant or distracted singers were suddenly excited for our Thursday sessions and found joy in being part of a “team”.  

By the time the concert weekend arrived, we had 28 choir members!  We performed 4 songs, including a lovely old carol titled “Rise Up Shepherd and Follow”, accompanied on piano by our very own Miss Shari from the Marketing Department. The boys’ trio on the second verse sounded simply angelic. The choir’s favorite number was the gospel song “Christmas Jubilation”. The kids sang with excitement, and the addition of a girls’ trio upped the cute factor considerably. As I looked at these precious children, ranging from 1st grade through 7th grade, I could not have been more proud. They looked adorable in their Santa hats, but their shining faces really told the story. Their joy-filled music still rings in my ears!

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer joined the staff at the Bethlehem Center in February 2017 as a Read to Lead teacher.  In August, she transitioned into the Development Department as the Development and Projects Assistant.  Jennifer also serves as the Praise & Worship Leader at Chattanooga First Church of the Nazarene, where her husband, Eric,  serves as Senior Pastor.  They have 3 wonderful children and too many pets.

Posted by The Beth

A Stubborn Strength

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end."  Lamentations 3:22

I’m stubborn by nature, and for most of my life, that’s presented itself as a challenge. However, in my role here at the Bethlehem Center, it’s proven to be a vital strength. 

Working with children for whom life has not been easy or fair, and working within a community that’s been affected by unfair housing policies, gun violence, gang presence and a drug epidemic requires hope that is stubborn, and that refuses to give in. The kids I’m privileged to serve in Alton Park are the best examples I have ever known of grit, tenacity and steadfast love and joy. Not only are they faithful friends to one another, but they are also daily and hourly blessings to me. 

This week, I sat in Calvin Donaldson’s cafeteria surrounded by chattering 2nd graders who were eager to tell me about their victories in school. Our Read to Lead after-school students are, on average, 1.6 grade levels behind in reading and math. Listening to them brag on their own hard work, their well-deserved encouragement from their teachers and their progress made my heart soar with gratitude. 

 Last Friday, I spent the afternoon at East Lake Academy with several of their students. We talked about storytelling, and how the things we face as children and young adults shape us into who we will become. As they told me their stories it was clear to me that a stubborn commitment to goodness and a steadfast love of their friends, family and community was a huge part of what carried them through each day. 

It’s true that my primary job is to love the children who come through our doors every day, and to provide them with a safe place to grow and succeed. But, as I’m learning on a daily basis, it’s also a huge part of my job to receive the gifts of this neighborhood. One of those gifts is a refusal to give in, even when facing odds that seem daunting, even impossible. 

I count myself lucky to be an advocate for the children and families of Alton Park. I’m so grateful for the ways they are teaching me to turn my stubbornness into strength.  

Gracie Meringer

Gracie graduated from Covenant College with a degree in Community Development and now serves as the Read to Lead Program and Volunteer Coordinator at the Bethlehem Center. She can usually be found sipping her coffee with at least one of her "babies" (students)  in her lap. Gracie is passionate about justice, an advocate of health in all it's forms, and firmly believes in the power of telling our stories to change the world. 

Posted by The Beth

Thoughts From Our Intern

October 13th, 2017

I blink and a month at the Bethlehem Center has already flown by. And what a welcoming, awesome, and opportunistic month it has been! Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Morgan Reeves and I am a student at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. I’m currently working on my bachelor’s degree in social work with the intentions of graduating in May. After graduation, I plan on pursing a master’s degree in non-profit management. As a part of my senior year curriculum, I will be interning to gain real world experience, and I couldn’t have picked a better place to do that  other than at the Beth.    

In the last month, I have already learned so much. I am seeing what all it takes to run and operate a non-profit by being included in education, development, marketing, project planning, and fundraising meetings. I have also experienced and will continue to work in the Read to Lead Academy. What a blessing it is that children in the community have a safe place to go after-school where they can learn, grow, and have fun. Not only is the Read to Lead Academy an enjoyable place for the children, but it’s that for the staff as well. The Beth staff enjoys loving on the younger kids and cracking jokes with the older ones all while building meaningful relationships with each and every child. I love watching the staff collaborate as one huge thinking tank in the weekly staff meetings. One of the many things that the Beth has going for them is the ability to work so great with each other. It’s interesting how each department contributes different components that are vital to the operation of this non-profit. Other learning experiences I’ve had the privilege to assist with include: the Annual Fish Fry hosted by Ooltewah United Methodist Church, Parking Day, UTC Public Service Fair, Morning Manna, B.L.U. program planning, and the South Chattanooga Community Assessment. After taking part in all of the above my first month, I can only imagine the opportunities that have yet to come. 

My favorite part of being an intern is learning from the children in the community. Each child is unique in his or her own way. Getting to know and work with each child has absolutely been the highlight of my internship so far. While I am able to teach these children about a wide range of different things, they are teaching me more than they will ever realize. Recently,  Ms. Rachel, the Education Director,  and I were able to take two of the Read to Lead students to the Hunter Museum. SPLASH, a youth art workshop, had an exhibit with our students’ artwork displayed. It was awesome to see how happy and proud our students were that their art was on display for many to see at a huge museum like the Hunter. We showed the kids other exhibits during our visit as well. They were so fascinated and inspired with the artwork. Hearing their interpretations verses my own was quite remarkable. They saw things in a totally different light. Taking the students on this trip was definitely a memorable experience.  

When my year at The Beth comes to a close, I hope that I’m able to walk away knowing that I gave my all to this community. I want to leave an impact, no matter how small that impact may be. I hope the children will be able to say, “Hey, that Ms. Morgan girl loved us,” and if I’m lucky maybe they’ll say I was cool too. I hope this experience at the Beth enables me to be a better social worker in other communities. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to spend my internship here and with the people of this community. 

Morgan Reeves

Morgan is a senior at UTC planning to graduate with a degree in social work. She is currently the social work intern at the Bethlehem Center and loves getting to know youth in the Alton Park community. In her free time she enjoys antique shopping, hanging with friends, and playing volleyball.

Posted by The Beth | Topic: Community

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