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By Olivia Kemp, MSW Intern

Path to Shine is a community-based afterschool program that seeks to empower underserved elementary aged children at 14 program sites in Georgia. Each program site meets once a week on different days from 2:30-5:00 PM at host churches. The children who attend the programs are offered opportunities to build social and emotional skills through various learning-related activities and by engaging with the volunteers at each site.

For the first hour, the children work with the same volunteers each week in a 2:1 ratio to focus on homework help and reading. The children are provided a snack donated by the host church or volunteers and given the opportunity to play inside or outside. At the end of the day, the children gather for group time that consists of developing new life skills through various hands-on activities, going out for various events, and hearing from guest speakers who visit periodically.

I had the opportunity of seeing the great work Path to Shine does first-hand at Olive Springs Baptist Church, one of their Marietta locations. Upon arrival, I met with Executive Director Lesley-Ann Drake who has been with Path to Shine since the program began in 2010. Lesley-Ann is an ordained vocational deacon of the Episcopal Church assigned to St. Aidan’s in Milton, GA. Her passion to work with at-risk children began when she volunteered at MUST Ministries, which is an organization in Cobb County that helps low-income families. By utilizing her connections to the faith community, Lesley-Ann began to collaborate with the Episcopal church and other denominations to help implement Path to Shine in host churches across Georgia.

Olive Springs Baptist Church is one of the many church partners that Path to Shine works with to provide programming in Marietta. When the children arrive, they place a sticker next to their name to check in and then join a table. Each table contains a volunteer, two children, and homework material that they work on collectively. There are books and games that sit at the end of each table for the children to use when they transition out of doing homework. The volunteers are all provided with binders that contain the curriculum and the monthly schedule for each week.

Path to Shine encourages each program site to host a one to two week-long session during the summer through funding provided to them. Many of the Path to Shine sites are able to host summer activities but not all do. The summer sessions either focus on a specific topic, such as science or vacation bible school, or provide the children with opportunities to visit places like the World of Coca-Cola or Zoo Atlanta. For rising kindergartners, summer programming is a great way to introduce new children to Path to Shine prior to the following school year.

Path to Shine is able to continue their programs through their dedicated volunteers and donors who continue to stand behind their efforts. Their faith in God also inspires them to serve in this capacity and build relationships with other denominations who would like to use their resources to help create afterschool programs. Path to Shine is a perfect example of how faith communities can work together to make an impact in the lives of at-risk children.

To learn more about Path to Shine, go to http://pathtoshine.weebly.com/.