H.E.L.P. We Need Somebody
Carlisle Sutton (Master of Divinity, second year; Master of Community and International Development, second year) has been working to help children in Benton Harbor, Mich., by utilizing a resource right in its backyard: Andrews University students.
Last semester, Sutton organized a Christmas concert in the Howard Performing Arts Center for an audience of approximately 500 second grade through fifth grade Benton Harbor public school students. The concert featured performances from Deliverance Mass Choir (DMC), Journey, and L.I.F.E. Ministries.
Sutton said, “The music provided by Journey and DMC could not have been better and in my estimation the angels sang that morning. L.I.F.E. Ministries actors and others really got the drama right and you could feel the excitement in the audience all through the program. Each child later wrote a special Thank You note expressing how much they appreciated the invitation. The teachers and principals of the schools also sent special notes of appreciation.”
Many Andrews University students also responded positively to the concert, including Jameeka Williams (freshman, history, pre-medicine), a tenor in DMC, who performed at the concert.
“It was enriching. I felt like I was doing a great help,” Williams said. “Even though it was Dead Friday and I should’ve been asleep, the happiness of serving others outweighed my personal desires of rest and study. I was glad that the kids seemed to like the program.”
This semester, Sutton is working as Director of H.E.L.P. (Human Empowerment Life Project), an initiative started in collaboration with James White Library in 2015 to assist Benton Harbor public school students academically and mentor them spiritually. Every Friday, Sutton takes a team of students to various Benton Harbor public schools to provide tutoring services for third grade students.
In a meeting on Jan. 27, Sutton and his associates held an assembly to request the help of Andrews University students. They were looking for students willing to come out every other Friday to help students in first through third grade with reading, English, mathematics and other subjects.
Many students attended the assembly to learn more about H.E.L.P. and to offer their assistance. In two “shifts”—one shift every other Friday afternoon—interested Andrews students have tutored the Benton Harbor students in their own classrooms.
Last semester, H.E.L.P. involved approximately 125 students in its tutoring initiatives and Christmas concert. This semester, Sutton is looking to grow H.E.L.P.’s team of volunteers.
Sutton said, “H.E.L.P. is more than one individual. Everyone who joins the program becomes part of the team. These people commit to being there every other week. They connect with the kids in the classroom. They share their stories and values which only eternity will be fully able to measure.”
In promoting H.E.L.P.’s Benton Harbor initiative, Sutton has shared State of Michigan statistics referencing the Benton Harbor schools at which volunteers tutor students. In 2013, the average academics scores for Benton Harbor students were lower than the State of Michigan averages. According to the Michigan Student Step for Educational Progress (MSTEP) from 2015, 6.2 percent of students from Kindergarten through third grade were proficient in English Language Arts (ELA); 0.81 percent of students grades three through five were proficient in ELA and mathematics; and zero percent of students grade six through 12 were proficient in ELA, mathematics, science and social studies.
Sutton said, “Benton Harbor has found a special place in my heart because of the many challenges faced by individuals living there. Research shows that a good education is critical to improving one's quality of life and achieving economic success. The work of improving the educational outcomes of a community which has been struggling for many years and which lacks financial and other resources is one that will require innovation, commitment and tenacity.”
If you are interested in getting involved with H.E.L.P., email Sutton at firstname.lastname@example.org.