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Program builds up leadership, grades
By Mary Stamp

Betsy Williams, right, serves Lynndsie Sturgill a salad as she arrives after school.

In the safe, supportive environment of Neighborhood Network programs, Betsy Williams sees children and youth improve their grades and develop leadership skills.  She also sees their low-income families improve their lives through participation in Neighborhood Networks programs.

These programs are offered for people living in multi-family housing through Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to improve self-sufficiency and access to technology.

In 1995, Neighborhood Networks was started by HUD nationally to build economic, health, education and personal self-sufficiency for low- to moderate-income families.

 “We seek to make workers, critical thinkers, studiers, helpers, engineers and doctors, to teach them to work with little and they will have much,” Betsy said. “We offer the program out of love to give children opportunities, to be a support mechanism to encourage those who are discouraged by their struggles, so they do not reach a breaking point.

 “We create an environment so children gain initiative and engage themselves as leaders to change the world and to have a heart for the community,” she said.

After school, the children come to the South Perry Learning Center at Emmanuel Family Life Center, operated by New Bryant Arms South dba Richard Allen Apartments, the adjacent low-income housing.

 By 3:15 p.m., Betsy said, the children come from Grant Elementary School tired, so they begin the after-school program by sitting down to read or complete homework, and eating a meal that volunteers prepare.

“When they leave at 5 p.m., they have had a meal and have done their homework,” she said.  “I see a difference in their lives and demeanor.”

Parents who come home from work tired are relieved that their children have been fed and have their homework done.  They have reported that their children’s grades have gone from Ds to Bs, their depression has lifted, and they are more outgoing.

Betsy began in 2003 as assistant manager and now is community manager at Richard Allen Apartments, built in 1971 by New Bryant Arms South dba Richard Allen Apartments, the HUD-assisted multi-family housing that is managed by Kiemle and Hagood Co. 

In 1997, Pastor Lonnie Mitchell started Neighborhood Networks and ran the program out of an office at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. 

Neighborhood Networks moved to the Richard Allen Apartments and then, in 2008, it moved to Emmanuel Family Life Center, which was built between the church and apartments.

Charles Williams, Betsy’s son, now manages the After-School Program, the Computer and Internet Education, the Summer Teen Program and Emmanuel Family Life Center.

“He is a role model, challenging children and youth to keep focused on education as he did,” said Betsy.
He emerged from early struggles in school to study at Eastern Washington University and earn an online degree in business from Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa.

The low-income tenants need assistance to keep their housing, so Neighborhood Networks also offers Responsible Renters classes, Tree of Sharing Christmas gifts, a food program after school and in the summer, Washington Connections and SNAP utility assistance.

The focus of the after-school program is education through the Youth Program Quality Initiative (YPQI).  The method involves youth engagement, peer interaction, a supportive environment, a safe environment and youth voice.

“It’s not a hang-out for children and youth, but a pipeline to inspire children to go on to jobs and higher education,” Betsy said. “We build in critical thinking and have a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program.”
Each day children come, the two staff and five volunteers test their mood: “How did you do today?  Was it a great day, medium or rough? 

If they are upset, we re-direct them so they are calm and do not disrupt the other students.”

The 32 children who come are to do homework and read.  They can do educational programs on the computers.  Tuesdays and Thursdays a volunteer leads a STEM program in robotics.  Volunteers also offer art, yoga and sewing.  On Wednesdays and Fridays, a volunteer offers tutoring in math. Once a month, volunteers from The Links, Inc., teach a history class.

Sometimes they see movies or have speakers. Recently, after a fire fighter talked about fire prevention, children went home and set up fire escape plans, Betsy said.

Charles keeps the children on task with incentives and asks their teachers to send homework packets in case children forget their homework.

Now that the Open Doors program of the Family Promise Day Center is housed in the Emmanuel Family Life Center, more children including teens, come.

“Middle school and high school youth who come early use computers and then do homework in a room across the hall,” Betsy said.  “We help them set goals of getting jobs and going to college.  We encourage them to stay on top of their homework and be involved with activities and athletics.”

Charles and volunteers also encourage them to do board games and play after homework is done.
“We help them stay focused in spite of challenges and struggles their families face,” she said.
In addition to the meal, Neighborhood Networks provides Bite-to-Go boxes of food for weekends.
“If children’s clothes are not clean, we provide resources to do laundry and may buy clothes and shoes for some,” said Betsy.

Charles has rapport with the children and youth. “They trust him,” Betsy said.  “He knows their struggles and motivates them, because he experienced similar struggles.”

In the eight-week Summer Teen Program, Charles takes 25 teens, ages 13 to 17, to tour colleges to motivate them to earn degrees or specialize in a trade.  The program includes health awareness, SAT training, community service, career opportunities, arts and self-esteem building to help them overcome poverty.

Betsy also collaborates with Kiemle & Hagood and Transitions to teach Responsible Renters so families have the foundation they need as renters.

“We encourage people to come out of their apartments and find resources to better their lives,” she said.
“We can’t just work with children.  We also need to help the parents be able to provide food, clothing and housing,” Betsy said.  “We provide them with resources so they can support their children.”

Betsy knows the importance of education, because her family’s life has turned around since she, her son, her husband—also Charles—and daughter Chantel have pursued higher education. 

They came to Spokane in 1992 when her husband was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base.
She first worked at a bank and cared for her mother, who moved from Illinois after having a stroke.

When she was a child, Betsy’s mother often took her fishing in Clinton, Iowa, and drove by Ashford University. Her mother dreamed that one day Betsy would study there.

When searching for a college, Betsy remembered her mother’s dream and applied there.
Higher education has made a difference for her family.

In 2012, Betsy earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Ashford University’s online program.  She now also has a master’s degree in education from Ashford.

Betsy’s husband Charles participated in the construction and completion of the Emmanuel Center.  Then he earned a degree in civil engineering and is now a construction contract manager with Fairchild.

Meanwhile, she was being mentored for ordination through the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2007 as an itinerant minister.  In 2013, she was ordained an itinerant deacon.

“Ministry has always been a direction for me,” she said.  “There were many Baptist ministers in my family.  My roots are to serve in the community and in the church.”

She recently began studies for a master of divinity degree at United Theological Seminary in Ohio to pursue ordination as an itinerant elder. 

“God has given me a heart for people and a love of children,” she said.  “The Bible says that if it’s in your power to do good, then do good. 

“If we have much, we are to serve others, to have generous hearts,” Betsy said.

For information, call 981-6568.

Copyright © April 2018 - The Fig Tree