(Originally posted on GrantCOnnected.net’s website on November 15, 2016)
Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon, Tim Andrews volunteers at the Center for Success in Marion. He mentors children, helping them with their emotional and social well being.
“My goal is to show them that there is a different way and there is a way out of poverty and it can be theirs if they choose that,” Andrews said.
Center for Success is a non-profit after school program that serves kindergarten through 12th graders in the Marion area. The Marion location opened in 2010 and is part of a network of centers; the other centers are in Michigan.
After D.J. Ikeler graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2009, he moved back to Michigan, his home state, and helped start two centers there. He has since moved back to Marion to be the pastor for God’s House and while being the president of the Center for Success Network.
According to Ikeler, the Marion center focuses a lot on emotional and physical health. He said many of the children who come to the center are in dire need, some having parents who are drug addicts.
One way Center for Success is helping the children with health is installing a washer and dryer. Ikeler said about 90 percent of their kids don’t have ones in their home, causing them to not go to school because they’re embarrassed.
Despite the hardships for these children, Ikeler said they see progression in them. He said he thinks Center for Success is impacting downtown Marion in a positive way because of providing a safe place for children.
“We’re seeing kids who came into the program four or five years ago in junior high, they are graduating and going to college. We’re seeing kids that came in and when they came in, they couldn’t read and now they can read,” Ikeler said. “Or when they came in they were so emotionally disturbed that all they would do is kick people or cuss people out … and now these are kids whose teachers are saying they are doing better and better not just academically but emotionally.”
Erika Horner, director of the Marion Center for Success, said the staff provides opportunities for the children and their families to see different ways of living.
“We just want to make sure our children feel loved and confident in who they are,” Horner said. “We want them to know there’s a possibility for them to do whatever they can dream of.”
Along with mentoring, the staff also provides them with coats, hats, gloves, backpacks and even Christmas gifts. Andrews said he has bought them shoes, clothes and food stamps. He said he likes to take them bowling, fishing and out to eat as well.
“I feel so connected to these kids … I engage with them outside of the Center for Success,” Andrews said. “I just can’t leave it at the center because I know the hardships that poverty puts on families so you try to reach a little bit deeper.”
Volunteering at the center for the past five years, Andrews said it’s rewarding and heartbreaking at the same time.
“These kids are from such deep poverty,” Andrews said. “It’s rewarding from the fact that you think you can make a small difference in their life and give them some hope for the future.”