The "Just Lead" program at Lennon-Seney United Methodist Church provides mentors, academic help, and a Bible study to elementary, middle, and high school students in east Knoxville.
Recently, the year-old program received a boost with a $1,000 Change for Children grant.
“Just Lead is an after-school and summer program where we help kids with their homework or academics, have a Bible study in large groups, then break into small groups,” said Cedric Johnson, program site coordinator. “We also have a relationship component. We find mentors, we go into the school and talk to the teachers, and have a parent contact.”
During the summer, Johnson said middle and high school students worked on job skills and wrote resumes. The group talked about what they wanted to do, then how they were going to achieve those goals.
“We finally got up to how to write a resume and what to do on an interview,” Johnson said. “They were very interested.”
The students expressed interest in becoming physicians, attorneys, or cosmetologists, among other professions, and one girl even wanted to be a boxer. Johnson said he discussed the skills and personality traits required for each profession.
“We tell them they can accomplish whatever the want to, they just need to work at it,” Johnson said.
During the school year, Johnson said they help students with homework and academics in general.
“It seems like a lot of the kids are behind in reading or math, not just in our program but citywide,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s team works with about 15 elementary-age children on Mondays, combines middle and high school groups on Thursdays, and works separately with those older students on Wednesdays.
Mentors come from both the church and the AmeriCorps program, and "Just Lead" also partners with Emerald Youth Foundation, Johnson said.
Johnson said the organization will use the grant money to introduce participants to fun or cultural events that are new to them.
"A lot of our kids come from low-income families,” Johnson said. “Some of them had never been to Splash Country [a Pigeon Forge water park], and some have not even been out of east Knoxville.”