As students in the Indianapolis area go back to school this month, several churches are stepping up to help them get the most out of their studies.
Tutoring ministries that offer free academic assistance have become prized in a tough economic climate where many parents are struggling to provide for their children.
Many of these ministries also provide students from high crime areas with a safe place to reinforce their education.
One effort that is growing in popularity is the Building a Better You Ministry, operated by the Virtue and Praise Ministries. It provides an after school mentoring program for students from grades kindergarten to 12.
"This is just our way of doing our part to see that children in our community succeed," said Charity Lewis, a spokeswoman for Virtue and Praise Ministries.
Tutors are available to meet with a student for one hour each week by appointment. Although assistance is offered in all subjects, a primary focus has been placed on "the basics" of reading and mathematics.
"A lot of our young people go from grade to grade without really understanding the basics, and we just want to affirm that academic foundation," Lewis said.
The After School Mentoring Program was launched with eight students in 2009, and grew to serve almost 70 in 2010. More students are expected this year for the program, which Lewis said grew from the vision of Prophetess Audrey H. Berden, founder of Virtue and Praise.
"Her mother was an educator who had a heart for young people, and that was instilled in Prophetess Berden," Lewis said. "It also comes from some of the things she went through in the school system with her own children. Once she learned what the needs were, she just wanted to help other parents and young people."
During the 2010-11 school year, officials with Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) asked tutors with the After School Mentoring Program to assist students at Schools 27 and 48.
Carlene Ng-gomez, a volunteer with the program, noted that it also has assistance for adults, especially those who do not read well, are trying to develop skills to secure a new job or have been learning to speak English.
"We are able to assist students and adults who are using English as their second language, and also help teachers who are learning Spanish," said Ng-gomez, the program's Hispanic outreach coordinator.
She added that the volunteers really enjoy helping people reach their goals.
"We're more than happy to help those who need it so that they can get to their desired level of education," Ng-gomez said.
Another successful church-based tutoring program is offered by Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
"Most people in this area are aware of the program because it has been here for three years," said Maggie Knox of Mt. Zion.
The Mt. Zion Tutoring Ministry will resume sessions on Sept. 19 at Renaissance Center of Hope and Learning, 3549 Boulevard Pl. Sessions will be available every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 5 p.m.
Currently, the program is targeted for middle and high school students from grades six to 10, but assistance is also available for junior and seniors on an as-needed basis.
William Sims, Mt. Zion's director of Christian education and historian, established the tutoring ministry as a way to increase academic success among youth in the community. Sims operated the ministry until his recent death.
Despite his loss, however, the church has chosen to keep the ministry going.
"He would be turning over in his grave if we stopped this program," Knox said. "Education was very important to him, and he would be honored to know that we are keeping this program alive for the students."
For more information about tutoring by the Building a Better You Ministry's After School Program, call (317) 388-1541 or e-mail email@example.com. For information about the Mt. Zion Tutoring Ministry, call (317) 924-4748.
Following is a listing of other churches with tutoring ministries/programs:
• St. John's Missionary Baptist Church - 1701 Dr. Andrew J. Brown Ave., (317) 636-5775. Tutoring offered on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon.
• Our Redeemer Lutheran Church - 3421 N. Park Ave., (317) 925-3588, or visit www.ourredeemer.org.
• Good News Ministries - 2712 E. Washington St., (317) 638-2862. Tutoring available Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:30 to 5:15 p.m. Reading tutoring available via computer. Visit www.goodnewsministries.com.