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By Lee Byerly. Photos by Susan Brown.

It’s been said, “You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

Summer Camp at Essex VillageI received an awakening while volunteering for summer camp at Essex Village Apartments (see related story). I have lived! How? I was awakened to the reality of young children, each unique and precious, each needing a smiling face from someone who genuinely cares. I could be that face and didn’t need anything in return.

Every day of camp about 12 children knew the smiling faces and love of FBC volunteers who gave their time, talent and treasure. Several of these children are from Pakistan, Kenya and Somalia and are trying to assimilate into a new culture and way of life, while still retaining their sense of identity. This they did with great joy and anticipation every day.

Mornings were filled with one-on-one tutoring, listening to students read, working out math problems, and playing various games. Higher level thinking skills soared as Checkers became the game of choice among students who wanted to play the adults. After lunch Josie Carver led creative art projects.

In addition to art and core subjects, Steve Blanchard (FBC’s Associate Pastor with the Ministry of Compassion) helped organize field trips. We took the students to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Three Lakes Park and Nature Center, and on a historical tour of Richmond. Steve was an excellent tour guide! Each student took notes of the travels and compiled them into a short personal essay that was shared with the class.

Other outings included lunches at McDonald’s and Sweet Frog where the children found good opportunities for decision making. Those who completed their summer reading were also treated to Chick-fil-A.

That reading can continue with many wonderful books provided by First Baptist for the children and adults of Essex Village. These books and two new book shelves were presented on the last day of camp.

Many exciting moments, many small victories, such a short amount of time. That kind of success happens when there is a combined effort – children, parents, volunteers, all under the direction of Mrs. Ernestine Dockery-Roy and her husband from Seeds of Promise Outreach Ministries, Inc.

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Lee ByerlyLee Byerly and his wife, Lisa, are members of the Travelers Adult Bible Fellowship. Lee teaches tennis. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with their daughter, Rachel, fishing, camping, snowboarding, and following college sports.

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Story and photos by Jeannie Dortch.

FBC’s work with Essex Village began in 2010 when FBC member Sandra Millican began tutoring Than Sein, a Burmese refugee (see It takes two to tutor). When Than and his family moved to Essex Village, he started attending Laburnum Elementary where Sandra continued to help him. As other New Americans, originally from Bhutan, moved to Essex Village, more doors opened and FBC’s ministry there grew.

Essex Village afterschool programThe first time I arrived at Essex Village to tutor at-risk children in the newly-formed afterschool program, I noticed that one of the other tutors was wheelchair-bound with no use of her legs and not much of her arms or hands.

I was mesmerized with her command of the children. She radiated joy, sweetness, care, and knowledge, and the children responded to her with respect and obedience. This volunteer, I learned, is Teresa Jackson, a Title 1 math assistant at Laburnum Elementary. She volunteers in Essex Village’s afterschool program as part of the non-profit Seeds of Promise Outreach Ministries, Inc., started by Ernestine Dockery-Roy, recently retired assistant principal at Laburnum Elementary. With the godly leadership of these two women, the tutoring space has been transformed into a place where children can find safe refuge and feel love’s warmth.

calloutGetting to know Teresa better is something I was determined to do to learn what motivates her to work in such a mentally and physically demanding job. Visiting with her at Laburnum Elementary reinforced the concept that humans are only limited by their thoughts. Teresa whizzed through the corridors in her motorized wheelchair and explained her philosophy of teaching. “I’m not handicapped. I’m disabled, meaning I’m not necessarily able to work like you do, but I am able to get the job done. It may take me a little longer, but the results are the same. I love children and I want to see them succeed, and that can be done in or out of a wheelchair.”

Essex Village has a population of more than 500 children, all living below the poverty level (less than $17,500 for a single parent with two or more children). According to Steve Blanchard, FBC’s Minister of Compassion, “The needs are great, but our partnership with Essex Village is showing promise as a blessing to those who live there, but even more so to the people of FBC.”

Teresa sums it up, “I love to see children brighten up by what they learn. Many of the students in our program come from abusive families, and I want them to know they have teachers who care about them. Some of the kids say, ‘I can’t try no more.’ I tell them, ‘Think can, not can’t. I don’t use the word can’t. Look at me! If I can, you can. I don’t pity you, nor do I want to. I am motivated by you. I want you to find something that motivates you so you too will experience God’s blessing in your lives.’”

Essex Village afterschool programEditor’s note: Seeds of Promise will provide a summer camp from July 8th-August 1st, Monday-Thursday, 9:00-1:00, for elementary school children in Essex Village. The camp will include arts and crafts, outdoor activities, and lunch. In the fall of 2013 a nine week afterschool tutoring session will be held. For information on how to contribute to these opportunities contact Jeannie Dortch or Sandra Millican.

Find a list of ongoing Essex Village Projects at http://fbcrichmond.org/KOH2RVA/projects.htm.

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By Jeannie Dortch. Photos by Jeannie Dortch and Sandra Millican.

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40, NIV).

calloutSandra Millican began volunteering in First Baptist’s New Americans Ministry in 2010. As part of the Wednesday night “English as a Second Language” program, she was assigned as a homework helper for Than Sein (THan Sane), a Burmese second-grader.

During the next year, she progressed from his tutor to friend, mentor and family member. Sandra said, “Watching Than succeed is pure pleasure, and I am having the time of my life.”

It didn’t take long before Sandra realized that she could be more effective with 8-year-old Than if she also helped him in his classroom at Laburnum Elementary School. Although a fulltime employee of Virginia Wayside Furniture, Sandra began spending Wednesday mornings at school with Than. Then she decided that giving him her best was going to mean less distraction, so Sandra changed her tutoring with Than to after school on Wednesdays. Following these sessions, Sandra drove him to church where they participated in FBC’s Wednesday night tutoring program. By the spring of 2011, Sandra and Than’s schedule included trips to Barnes and Noble, exposure to the history and culture of Richmond, and plans to enroll him at U-TURN Sports Performance Academy.

Than and his parentsInteraction with Than’s parents has shown Sandra that his education is not a family priority because survival is such an overwhelming task for them. With the help of mutual Burmese friends who speak English, Sandra has been able to help the Seins navigate the social services system. More importantly, she has realized that helping Than succeed offers the best chance for his parents’ success as well. Last year, this revelation propelled Sandra to negotiate an agreement between school and parents for Than to enroll in summer school and repeat second grade. As part of this decision, Sandra committed to increase her time with Than from one to three afternoons per week and some evenings for the 2011-2012 school year.

Sandra reflected on the amount of time she’s investing in Than, “My colleagues will invite me to do something after work, and I am happy to tell them I have homework!”

Than loves working with Sandra because he loves to learn and especially enjoys getting good grades. His goal is to be able to read his own tests by the end of the year instead of having them read to him.

Sandra said her experience with Than has helped her, too. “My heart has been softened by this experience, and it has become a passion I didn’t know I had. For me, the kingdom of heaven is here.”

Editor’s note: For more information on ESL or the New Americans Ministry, contact Steve Blanchard, Minister of Christian Compassion.


Jeannie DortchJeannie Dortch joined FBC in 1974 after being lovingly mentored by the members of Buddy Hamilton’s Sunday school class. A grandmother of four, Jeannie has served as a deacon, taught in our children’s, youth, international, and adult Sunday school departments, but is presently a member of the WebClass. Recently retired from 16 years of teaching at Rudlin Torah Academy, Jeannie enjoys exercising, cooking, reading, tutoring New American students at Maybeury Elementary, and writing articles for FTF.

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