Community organization starts after-school program.

April Samuelson

Mekah Jones, senior general studies major, and Kelli Holcomb-Acoff, junior hospitality management major, serve breakfast to children at “A Celebration of Children,” a fundraising breakfast program supporting LoveLight’s STARCHILD Initiative. The breakfast

Credit: Jason Hall

When a child is dealing with poverty, abuse or bullying, learning often shifts to the back burner.

This is the message professor Mary Allen-Huffman, professor in Educational Foundations and Development, gave attendants of the Lovelight, Inc. “Celebration of Children” breakfast.

Allen-Huffman said growing up in poverty, her teachers didn’t understand why she wasn’t more focused on school.

“My teacher called me up and said, ‘Mary-Louise, you are failing social studies.’ I was thinking ‘Are you kidding me? I’m not even getting food tonight.’ Social studies wasn’t even on my radar,” she said.

Lovelight, Inc., is a non-profit organization that works with children. Lovelight is starting the STARCHILD initiative, an after-school program for students struggling with reading and math.

“We have two main purposes in our mission,” executive director Betsy Justice said. “One is to promote a positive healthy lifestyle, and the other is helping people move toward achieving their potential.”

Justice said she started the organization after being involved in the anti-poverty movement.

“When we started this I knew we wanted to do something that will move people to a better quality of life,” Justice said. “We’re small, so we’ve been focusing on children in the context of family and the community.”

Tim Moore, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and board chairman of Lovelight, said volunteers are the major strength of the organization.

Student volunteers worked at the breakfast. Kelli Holcomb-Acoff, junior hospitality management major, and Mekah Jones, senior general studies major, served food as part of the Human Services Management Organization.

“I like to do volunteer work, and I don’t do enough since I’m in school and I’m a mom,” Jones said. “This is one way to give back. There’s people who helped me before and it’s a celebration for the kids.”

“It humbles you to see other people,” Holcomb-Acoff said. “You get out of your bubble and get out your life and learn. That’s how I try to look at everything. It’s a learning experience.”

Jennifer Ferrell, elementary education graduate student said working with Lovelight brought her closer to the community. She is now designing the learning environment for the STARCHILD initiative.

“Over the summer I worked with Lovelight’s food program and it actually coordinated with my coursework this semester to work with Lovelight,” Ferrell said.

The STARCHILD Initiative will be open Monday through Friday at the Faith Lutheran Church on 931 E. Main St.

Justice, who is also an instructor in educational services and development, said they are using learning profiles to create individual programs with art and other activities to encourage learning.

“It’s targeted to children struggling in reading and math,” Justice said. “We will make learning profiles on each student by talking to parents and teachers trying to find out why they are at a lower grade level in reading a math.”

Justice said the organization is growing.

“Lovelight has been around for years, and the light is only getting brighter,” Justice said.

Contact religion reporter April Samuelson [email protected].