A young child recently walked through the doors of a local church, and cheers immediately filled the foyer as a group of adults gathered around the student.
The scene was the weekly Whiz Kids after-school session at Wesley United Methodist Church, 1401 NW 25.
Volunteers from Wesley partner with volunteers from United Methodist Church of the Servant to offer tutoring, an after-school meal and a voluntary Bible segment for about 49 students of Edgemere Elementary School.
The Wesley United Methodist Whiz Kids program recently won Whiz Kids Oklahoma's Shooting Star Award for the partnering churches' numerous volunteers and the care and attention they give to young participants.
“It's just crazy fun — falling in love with kids that aren't even yours,” said volunteer Kay Morgan, a member of Church of the Servant. “Our tutors are disappointed when their kids aren't here.”
Whiz Kids, a ministry of faith-based City Care, connects inner-city churches and suburban churches to offer free tutoring and mentoring to children in first through sixth grades at Oklahoma City area schools. The inner-city church provides a location for the one-on-one tutoring, and volunteers from both churches provide the lessons.
Volunteers were celebrated during Whiz Kids Oklahoma's annual Seeds of Hope Banquet at the Cox Convention Center. The event's keynote speaker, “Papa Joe” Bradford, told the volunteers, donors and Whiz Kids staff that their work on behalf of inner-city children is vital. Bradford, whose life inspired the faith-themed movie “Unconditional,” founded the inner-city nonprofit Elijah's Heart Incorporated in Los Angeles.
“Mentoring brings truth in a child's life, and without the truth these children cannot be set free,” Bradford told the banquet audience. “Mentors have the privilege of showing consistent love. Mentoring brings one of the greatest investments, and that is time.”
Bradford said organizations such as Whiz Kids are full of “heroes.”
“The mentors and donors — you are the heroes. We applaud you. Don't grow weary in well doing. Do not give up.”
Bea Jai Webb, executive director of Whiz Kids Oklahoma, echoed his sentiments.
“They (Whiz Kids participants) need a model to follow, and you are their model,” she said to the volunteers gathered.
Katie Hock, a fifth-grade teacher at Edgemere, serves as the teacher liaison for the Wesley Whiz Kids program. She said the tutoring program is making a huge difference in the lives of the participating students.
“The impact it has made in some of these students' lives is awe-inspiring,” said Hock, who attends Church of the Servant. “I've seen their confidence grow, and they also feel like they have someone to count on.”
She said some of the students don't have a stable home life.
“For those that don't, it's great for them to have an adult role model who they can count on.”
Hock said the program is primarily centered on academics, but the volunteers provide much more for the children.
“It's more than just reading — it's anchor for them.”
Guy Ramsey, a member of Wesley United Methodist who is the church's Whiz Kids' liaison, said he participates in the program because he believes in helping youths.
“I feel like it's a calling. I feel like we should be here to help out children, and I like to see them learn,” he said.
Martha Butler, a Wesley member who helps prepare after-school meals for the Whiz Kids students, shared a similar motivation.
“It's just rewarding to see the children's faces and to see them excel.”