Ashlee Clark is a 4th grader at Forest Park School. The blond-haired, blue-eyed, 10-year-old with the cherub-like smile is a participant of Kids Hope USA. Susie Treash, a member of the First Christian Church, is Ashlee's mentor. The two have built a valuable relationship which has changed Ashlee's life through Kids Hope USA.
Kids Hope USA began in October, 1993, when many church members wanted to make a difference in the life of a child but didn't know how. Experts in law enforcement, education, religion and health and human services were asked if churches could address the needs of growing numbers of at-risk children.
According to Kids Hope USA staff child psychologist Dr. Roger Sellon, in Voices of Hope, a large and growing number of American children are suffering from emotional and behavioral problems brought about, in part, from poor self-esteem.
Sellon says, "When a child believes in her inner being that she has value and worth in the eyes of those who are responsible for her care and development, her positive self-esteem blossoms. Such esteem-builders typically include parents, extended family, friends, teachers and mentors."
Sellon believes the decline of family support and spiritual values has been the major reason for the current decline in the self-esteem of children. And that decline, it's believed, can affect a child's academic results and goal achievement.
Kids Hope USA is a church-based mentoring program intended to help build self-esteem in struggling children.
The organizers believe that churches are better positioned to recruit volunteer mentors who will be faithful over the long haul. The volunteer mentors are loyal to the program since their church operates and funds it.
Their mission statement is "Kids Hope USA builds caring relationships... one child, one hour, one church, one school". For this organization, hope isn't just having high aspirations. It's also an acronym.
H stands for helping. Kids Hope USA helps to meet the emotional, social and academic needs of at-risk children by giving them a one-to-one relationship with a mentor from a church.
O is for owned by the church. This is the ministry of one church to children and families in one neighborhood.
P means prayer. Prayer is the foundation for Kids Hope USA work. A behind-the-scenes prayer partner from the church prays for each adult-child relationship.
E is for elementary school children. They are the focus of Kids Hope USA. They need mentoring most because they are at that critical time when values are formed, self-esteem is developed and critical academic skills must be acquired.
Susie Treash is the current director of Kids Hope USA at the First Christian Church in Brazil. The program started in Clay County two years ago, after it was cleared with Clay Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Rohr then accepted by Forest Park School Principal Connie Cook.
Jennifer Ross, a teacher at Forest Park School, was instrumental in implementing the program. She is the initial contact person at the school and continues to keep the program flowing smoothly.
Students are chosen for the program by the school's teacher assistance team. The team gets a child's name by teacher recommendation. Reasons a child may be considered are if he or she is struggling academically, maybe they come from a single parent home or it may be just a student who needs a boost in self-esteem.
There are currently seven children in Kids Hope USA at Forest Park School. More students want to be in the program but there are no more mentors available at this time.
"We need more mentors," Susie said. "So much can be accomplished for the little time spent. A mentor spends one hour a week at school with the child. If the teacher says there are specific academic problems, we work on that during a session.
"If there is more time, the child can decide what he or she wants to do," Susie continued. "It could be a game. That makes it fun and lets the child have some say in it. Or you may just want to sit and talk.
"Ashlee and I are working on geography with flash cards. It's fun for her and she's learning from it. Ashlee is a delightful little girl. I really look forward to the time I spend with her. I think I get as much from it as she does."
The principal was asked about results of the program. "Most results are seen in the child's attitude," Cook said. The children look forward to coming to school. They don't want to miss school. Academically we see grades improve and it builds the child's confidence."
Ashlee was asked if she liked being in the program. She quickly nodded her agreement. "Yes, because I get to be with Susie," she said with a big grin. And I like learning new things. I'm learning about some states."
Kids Hope USA is designed for one church to partner with one elementary school. Susie would like to have more mentors from the First Christian Church for Forest Park Elementary.
She would also like to see other county churches get involved in the program. There are seven public schools in Clay County. Susie encourages area churches of any denomination to join Kids Hope USA and become a mentor partner with the other six elementary schools. The mentors are screened and trained. Any adult church member who can read and drive is eligible.
Anyone interested in finding out how their church can join Kids Hope USA or anyone at the First Christian Church who is interested in becoming a mentor may call Susie Treash at 812-446-2214 ext. 11 or at 240-0055.
Principal Cook said, "It does make a difference."