The YES Enrichment program offered me my first job as a teenager, working in low-income housing in Charleston, West Virginia. At 15 I was clueless about the world outside the sphere of my neighborhood, school and church. The three summers I worked with this program opened my eyes to the least, lost and forgotten. The children we worked with were overlooked and often didn't get the help they needed in the school system, because they were labeled based on where they lived, their ethnic background or the struggles of their parents.
I'd like to think the summers we spent working with the children in these housing developments made a difference. We were there to offer them a safe place to play and to learn how to take care of themselves. We offered healthy meals, nutrition classes, and exercise fitness. For a few hours a day the children who attended received positive attention, love and care from the Teen Mentors. I gained just as much working with this program as the children who attended. I learned the importance of being an advocate for children and making sure we do not label based on circumstances. I graduated from high school wanting to help those in need. I spent a few years as a substitute teacher, where I did run into some of the children who had been in the YES Summer Enrichment program. Some of them were doing well as students and some were struggling to overcome the harsh realities of growing up poor, with parents who struggle in live. I went on to become an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. It is my mission in ministry to make sure our children are cared for and have the best opportunities to succeed in life. I currently have an after school program, Kidz First, that serves 38-40 children each Monday night. We are working to help families in our area. Each Monday evening, we offer children from our elementary school that qualify for free and reduced lunch, a safe place to receive help with homework, tutoring in subjects they are having difficulty in, a healthy snack, a time of recreation, and a healthy dinner where parents are invited to eat with their children.
For some of our students this one night of the week will provide the only healthy dinner they have during the week. And it may also be the only time parents eat with their children. We work closely with the school to make sure the children are doing better in the classes we are tutoring and helping them with.
I can support this program at my church because when I was a teenager working in the summers, I learned about children who desperately needed in our communities. I know they are often forgotten and I have chosen not to forget. I have chosen to help as many children and families as possible to have a better life. The YES program doesn't just help those who participate; this program helps those who work as well to be better advocates in their community to help our children to not just survive, but thrive.
I am thankful to Dr. Jones for his hard work for over 25 years to the health and welfare of children in our communities.
Rev. Sharletta M. Green, Pastor
New Martinsville United Methodist Church