Partner Spotlight | Elevate Youth

Opportunities: that was the word we heard over and over again as we spoke with the director of Elevate Youth.

Opportunities are few and far between for youth growing up in poverty. Because poverty is an issue that affects the whole person, the generationally poor have bigger problems than a shortage of money. The reality is that they lack the opportunities to grow, to build healthy relationships, to gain shaping experiences, and to be a contributing member of society.

But Elevate Youth is working to change this. For them, the big picture is about only two things- biblical truth and loving relationships. When kids have the chance to encounter both of these on a regular basis, they’re no longer just in a program. Instead, they are finding themselves surrounded with love and challenged by the truth of the Bible. And these two things, Elevate believes, are the keys to countless opportunities for growth and success.

Elevate Youth currently runs an after school program during the school year two afternoons per week. Elementary students come to receive homework assistance and spend time with leaders. While there, students also hear a short devotional that teaches them simple gospel truths: the world is broken, God loves you, we can have new life.

The plans for Elevate Youth are about more than just being another after school program. “What we’ve learned from serving in Allendale the years before Elevate Youth is simple: be in the community. Don’t be a program. Be a part of the neighborhood,” says director, Joey Espinosa.

As plans were being made to start Elevate last year, the leaders of the Sullivan neighborhood kept telling them, “We know after school programs already exist. We want our own. We want something in our community. We care about our kids, and we want to show that.” For Joey and his family they began to understand that they had a chance to contribute their energy and experience to help this neighborhood offer something after school.

Elevate works closely with Augusta Circle Elementary where most of their students attend. They are doing everything from meeting with the principal and teachers to helping Mentor Greenville get started in the school. When we asked Joey why Elevate didn’t start their own mentoring program, he told us, “There are already great things going on in Greenville. Organizations are mentoring and it works. We are ok just being the connecting point that makes something like this happen.”

During one of his visits to the school, a teacher pulled Joey aside to tell him about one of her students. The boy had begun attending Elevate after school and had come in that morning with completed homework for the first time in over four months. “What really touched the teacher was not just that he had done his homework,” Joey says, “but that he was so proud of himself for doing it. He no longer felt the shame of failing to do his homework because no one at home was helping him.” Something as simple as having a volunteer sit beside him for 45 minutes as he did his work made all the difference. It was someone showing him love; someone he had never met before. “The time that person gave demonstrated to this boy that people do love; they do care. He had to do his part, but there are people who care.”

As Elevate continues to grow, they are finding their biggest limitation is only a lack of people. “There’s so much more that could be done if more people would be involved,” Joey tells us.  “An hour a week can make such a huge difference. It’s as simple as choosing to be a part of this kid’s life.”

If this sounds like something you want to be a part of, volunteers are needed once school starts back in the fall to commit to spending an hour once a week or once a month at the after school program. Elevate encourages you to serve with your family, too. “The best thing we ever did was move our family to Allendale for those three years,” Joey says. “We brought our kids along with us to serve the community. Both then and now, we make decisions on how we need to follow Jesus, and we allow our kids to join us on that journey.” Having your kids serve alongside you teaches them ways to engage the community regularly, not just a few times a year.

If fall feels too far away, you can join Elevate Youth and Long Branch Church at camp this summer. The camp runs all day Monday to Friday.

To get involved in these or other opportunities, email Joey Espinosa at [email protected]