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Congregation offers after-school tutoring for children in Linwood neighborhood

Volunteers at Northwood Presbyterian Church gather twice weekly to nourish the bodies, spirits and minds of elementary students in an after-school homework club. 

Named “The Bridge Homework Club” by the students, it has become the afternoon stop-off between school and home. 

Students work in small groups or one-on-one with a volunteer tutor, said Denice Lucas, elder for Christian education this year and previously elder for mission and outreach.  The program is a joint venture of both elements of the church’s life.

Bethany Mahon, Northwood Presbyterian Church

Bethany Mahan tutors Salome Gutzman.

Bethany Mahan, who is director of family ministries and tutor program coordinator, oversees the program, which is starting its third year the week after school starts in September.

“Located at 6721 N. Monroe, Northwood Presbyterian is in an ideal location for this type ministry,” said one volunteer.  The church is within two blocks of Linwood Elementary School in North Spokane.

Realizing that both parents of many families work outside the home, the congregation began to seek ways to offer support to parents, schools and children. 

Time spent at “The Bridge” allows many children to complete homework assignments and receive tutorial help with their studies. 

“We realize how hard it is for a parent to stand over a child and say, ‘Do your homework.’  We hope this takes that tension out of the home,” said Denice, telling of one father dropping off his son and saying he had three pages of homework to do.  Later when the boy said he just had two pages to do, the tutor encouraged him to do a little more.

Volunteers have found that the children welcome a warm snack, generally a nourishing soup and homemade bread.  Time around the table promotes socialization across the generations. 

“The only religious thing we do is say a prayer before the snack,” said Denice.  “Otherwise, there is no evangelism.  Our outreach model is what our church is about, modeling loving community.”

She has found that many of the children have little concept of what church is about.

Denice brings 50 years of experience in Christian education, mission and outreach as a lifelong Presbyterian.  Growing up in Southern California, she moved from Portland to Spokane with her husband, Terry, several years ago.  They are retired and came to be near family here.

“We were attending another Presbyterian church, driving past Northwood on Monroe,” she said. 

When the “interim pastor” sign shifted to pastor, they decided to start attending three years ago.

“We felt called to be here,” she said.

Denice and Terry are among the pool of eight volunteers assisting the program, which will be Mondays and Wednesdays this year.  The first year, there were an average of eight first-through-sixth graders.  Last year, about 10 to 15 came Mondays and Thursdays.

Children “hit the books” fully nourished. 

If a child is without homework, volunteers work on skills such as handwriting, math facts, spelling and reading for fun.  Educational games such as Monopoly, Dominoes and Scrabble are used to reinforce skills.

“Our role is to listen to the children, be with the children and keep them on task, helping with their homework for the week,” Denice said.

Pastor Sue Keim was called to serve Northwood Presbyterian three years ago.  She brings many years of family ministry experience and 20 years of experience working with Young Life in Vancouver and Tacoma, Wash.  She served Presbyterian churches in Port Angeles and Arizona before coming to Spokane. 

From her office window, she observed children walking homeward after school.  That began the visioning process. 

Over the months, her preaching emphasized the importance of developing and maintaining a living faith—a faith that is exemplified in the actions of those who are followers of Christ. 

“In my work with Young Life, the local school was always in my sights,” she said.  “I believe it’s important to reach out to the neighborhood and build a relationship with the school.”

The Bridge started with a few fifth and sixth graders Bethany met relating with people in the neighborhood. 

“We invited their families to church and to a Friday evening potluck,” Sue said.

Last year, the school called the church to be sure they were doing the tutoring again.  The school sent referrals and there were sometimes 15 children, including a few seventh graders from the previous year.

Parents said they were so thankful for our providing individualized tutoring,” Sue said.

Tutors include people from the church and some Whitworth University students.  They have background checks and training, she explained.

Otherwise, they just love Christ and love the children.  We share the Gospel through relationships,” she said.  “Other members who bring soup or meals have been hooked in, too.”

Although Northwood, which was founded in 1958, is a small congregation—about 110 members—its spirit is large, said Denice. 

Many members and friends are involved in some form of outreach and support. 

“Though we are closest to Linwood Elementary, our program is open and free to any child in grades one through six,” said Sue. 

“We aim to make this a safe and secure place for parents and their children,” she continued. 

The program begins on Sept. 10.

For information, call 328-2012 or visit www.northwoodpresbyterian.org.