Smithfield Herald

Gift buoys tutoring program

Karizma White, 9, leans in to play a learning game.
Karizma White, 9, leans in to play a learning game.

Prayers in Wilson’s Mills have been answered thanks to the generosity of a longtime Johnston County businessman and philanthropist.

Durwood Stephenson recently donated six computers to the after-school tutoring program at First Missionary Baptist Church on Durant Road. He even brought along a couple of employees to set up the new desktop machines and demonstrate how to use them.

The church served dinner and made an event out of the delivery, and throughout the evening, Stephenson graciously diverted the gratitude to Joe Wilder, who brought the technology need to his attention.

“Mr. Wilder deserves the credit,” Stephenson said. “He saw a need and said, ‘Got to find a way to fill it.’” Stephenson said.

Computers have become more vital as learning tools since First Missionary launched its tutoring program in 2001, and Wilder said the machines they had before were worn out and often required repairs.

With the gift from Stephenson, the schoolchildren now have a modern computer lab equipped with six Acer all-in-one desktops complete with wireless Internet, built-in webcams and Bluetooth connectivity.

More than 30 students from kindergarten through high school come to First Missionary Baptist for help with their work, Wilder said, and all of them will benefit from the new technology. Many of the older children have homework, such as research papers, that require computers, and kids of all ages can go online to look up assignments they might have forgotten to write down.

First Missionary’s after-school program is called Next Level Tutoring; the name comes from a sermon Pastor Larry Honeyblue gave on “next level living.” The message, the pastor said, was that it takes a change of heart to take your life to the next level.

Honeyblue said the church has applied that principle to improving the lives of children.

“Believe it or not, if you educate a child, they’ll change their outlook because their opportunities change,” he said. “Doors open that wouldn’t open, and it makes children feel better about themselves.”

First Missionary also works with a food bank to feed kids and has woven exercise into its tutoring program with help from the U.S. Tennis Association. Apart from gifts like the one from Stephenson, funding comes from the church offering plate.

The goal is to reduce poverty by making sure children succeed in school and receive the education they need to thrive, Honeyblue said.

“We can’t change the world, but we can touch where we are,” he said. “And you can’t change the community if you don’t touch the kids.”

First Missionary had relied entirely on volunteer tutors until last August, when it decided to hire Patricia McCarthy, who retired from Wilson’s Mills Elementary School after 20 years as a teacher. So far, McCarthy said, she has helped by improving organization, adding programs and sharing her understanding of the state’s Common Core Standards.

McCarthy was enthusiastic about the new equipment and said she was looking into buying some educational games to help make learning more fun for the kids. When Stephenson heard that, he offered to purchase the games and any other software that would help with the tutoring.

The kids, however, were way ahead of the grownups on that front.

Once the computers were up and running, a group of eager children flocked to the keyboards and, without any instructions from the adults, navigated web browsers to a site called Cool Math Games to begin playing various learning games. Not long afterward, it became clear the church might need to invest a few sets of headphones to contain the noise from all the games.

Jodavin White, 11, said the new computers were cool and would make him look forward to coming to tutoring after school.

“They make learning more fun,” he said.

Hamlin: 919-836-5768