*Originally published in Chattanooga Times Free Press
Kingdom Partners, a local church collaborative, launched a mentoring program Tuesday, part of a multi-pronged effort to mobilize houses of worship around Chattanooga to address local issues.
Charlotte McKee, a member of the Kingdom Partners board of directors, cited Matthew 9:37, the biblical verse about praying to God to send laborers to help in the harvest. Local youth need strong adults in their lives, she said during a Tuesday morning gathering at Hardy Elementary to announce the initiative.
“Our hope is to create mentoring opportunities for our youth by empowering churches to move into formal mentoring relationships, in order that positive outcomes may be measured and achieved,” McKee said.
Kingdom Partners is working with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chattanooga, City of Chattanooga Youth and Family Development Centers, Community Forward Schools and the United Way of Greater Chattanooga to train mentors and connect them with local youth. Area churches are being asked to provide volunteers to become mentors.
Oliver Richmond, president of Kingdom Partners, said the group hopes to gather 300 mentors from 30 churches by the end of the year.
Last summer, Kingdom Partners was one of six organizations nationwide Leadership Foundations selected to pilot a church-led collaboration program aimed at creating systemic community change. The organization, formed in 2018, has launched virtual learning sites for students during the COVID-19 pandemic, transported clean drinking water to Mississippi during a crisis there in March and led public discussions about racism in the summer of 2020.
Jessica Whatley, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Chattanooga, said her organization will help train mentors and provide resources to help adults feel prepared. She encouraged those gathered on Tuesday not to shy away from tough conversations with youth because those can build deeper relationships.
Erskine Oglesby, deputy administrator for community development for the city of Chattanooga, said partnerships across the community and including various groups is essential to provide the help children need.
“I’ve always said, with kids, what they see is what they’ll be,” he said. “And when you have mentors that exhibit Christian principles, mentors that show him how to live the right life, then you go a long way.”
Richmond said the church collective also has plans to work on literacy, affordable housing and workforce readiness in the area.
Marcellus Barnes Sr., a Kingdom Partners board member and lead pastor of Grace Pointe Church, told the crowd community leaders are being intentional with the new program.
“The beautiful thing about what’s taking place here, it’s not just going to happen at Hardy, it’s not just going to happen at any one particular school, but to be able to see this mentor initiative kick-off, to transcend all of our schools, and to address all of the barriers and create opportunities for all families and students,” Barnes said. “What better people than you? And so I’m excited.”