Jim and Peggy Abernathy led a seminar a couple of years ago about how retired folks can still make a difference.
Then they demonstrated it by starting a tutoring program that just completed its second year at their church, Friendly Avenue Baptist Church in Greensboro.
Peggy Abernathy, who was a teacher and member for 14 years on the Guilford County Board of Education, said that after the seminar she and Jim were brainstorming what they could do. They knew her sister and brother-in-law were involved in a tutoring program at their church in Maryland and decided to try a similar ministry at Friendly Avenue.
The Abernathys thought such a program would benefit both students and tutors. They canvassed church members and found 15 who had tutoring skills and wanted to be involved.
Next, they contacted nine area schools for potential students.
By the end of the first year, 34 students were involved. When the program paused for the summer this year, there were about 60 students from 20 schools on the role and 42 tutors. About half the tutors are members of the church.
“It has exceeded our expectations,” Jim Abernathy said.
Tutors helped students every Monday from 7-8 p.m. On an average night there were about 40 students and about 36 tutors.
The tutoring program operates like a study hall, Peggy Abernathy said. Students bring in homework, which the tutors help them with first. The homework usually doesn’t take the full hour, so students in elementary grades work from a folder with activities that fit their grade levels.
All the tutoring is done in the church fellowship hall and a nearby conference room. Parents can wait in the church’s parlor, which is also close to the fellowship hall.
Participating students range from first to 10th grade, but most are in elementary school.
“Periodically students or parents tell us, always following report cards, that their grades have improved,” Peggy Abernathy said. “High school students tell us they made the A-B honor roll.”
A second-grader who went from a C- to an A in math started getting help with reading.
“One of the biggest things we’ve noticed is an increase in self-confidence,” she said.
Jim Abernathy said that tutors are blessed by helping students, and they get involved in the students’ lives.
About half the tutors are retirees. Of those, about half are retired teachers. Peggy Abernathy said those who aren’t teachers can be good tutors.
“They both are very effective,” Jim Abernathy said.
He believes it helps the students to be around successful business people.
“It’s just a positive experience to help these kids,” he said.
One young man had to take a test to pass third grade last year. Jim Abernathy knew it was going to be a challenge, but the student passed.
“I was probably more thrilled about that than he was,” he said.
This year, one student had to do a project on North Carolina by finding something about the state starting with each letter of the alphabet. The project would have been difficult for the student to do at home, but at the tutoring program he was able to use a computer to complete it.
“When he got it done last week he was as thrilled as a kid can be,” said Jim Abernathy, who declared every tutor can tell similar stories.
About a third of the students are black and a third Hispanic. This year, the program added English as a second language (ESL) classes for some of the parents.
“That has been a grand success this year,” Jim Abernathy said.
Peggy Abernathy said three ESL classes are taught, each on a different level. About 15 adults are taking the classes.
Five ladies, including four from Friendly Avenue, teach the classes. The other teacher is a neighbor of one of the tutors. One of the ESL teachers also tutors a student in Spanish.
The tutoring program is free but parents have to provide transportation to and from the church. This is a sacrifice for some, including one family that lives about 30 minutes away.
Peggy Abernathy said information about church events is given to the students, but that’s not the main thrust of the program. Matt Queen, associate pastor for discipleship and evangelism at Friendly Avenue, said the program has been a blessing.
“It’s had a positive impact on our community,” he said.
Another Greensboro church is considering the Friendly Avenue model for its own ministry. Any church interested in getting started can call the Abernathys at (336) 299-3355 or e-mail them at [email protected]