Sunday, June 22, 2014

Celebrating 25 years of a special Light

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

At our best, we serve “the least of these.”

Such a belief and a hope has been the power behind a quarter-century of sweet illumination from LightHouse.

The short word for what LightHouse is would be a “program,” but programs are run by people, this one by people who believe that by shining a light on children in gloomy places, a full life is both given and received.

LightHouse lists as its goals “educational achievement, economic self-sufficiency and productive citizenship,” and its aim is the hundreds of families in some of Shreveport and Bossier City’s poorest neighborhoods. Education, LightHouse believes, is the way out of poverty. So with tutors and volunteers and coordinators to organize and encourage, LightHouse has suddenly turned 25 years old, a silver anniversary worth celebrating as it’s been an underrated gold mine for the area.

Plans are ongoing for a “formal” September celebration to mark when LightHouse, which had its beginnings in 1986, became a part of Volunteers of America in 1989. When the schedule is finalized and publicized, be aware: this might be your chance to investigate LightHouse and, if you haven’t already, help light the way for another of the more than 600 children and families it’s touched.

“We’re always in need of daily tutors who want to help with homework or reading,” said Tricia Jowell, LightHouse community development director. “We especially need male mentors; a lot of our children are being raised by single-parent moms.”

“Each volunteer represents ‘attention’ that can be given to students,” said program coordinator Bailee Winterrowd. “It’s simply awesome to watch a student enjoy the presence of a volunteer or mentor.”

What’s in it for you? Winterrowd thinks you’ll be surprised. She was. She found out why she was involved when she heard an interview on National Public Radio. An interviewee explained how his profession as a judge gave him “the opportunity to exercise compassion and patience,” the judge said, “something I may not be fabulous at, but I get the chance to practice every day.”

“My position at the LightHouse requires I practice such qualities – I need patience!” Winterrowd said. “I am confident I am here only because God is being gracious with me.”

She’s been with LightHouse only a year. In her first six months, she’d already seen newer LightHouse students pull multiple grades of F in school up to B’s in just one grading period. She’s seen drastic changes for the better in behavior. “I’ve seen fifth-grade boys really take pride in their writing and in finishing a long book,” she said, and illustration of little things that become big things, like diplomas.

Coming back for the “reunion” in September will be many college graduates, “gobs of them!’ said Sondra Dixon, who’s worked with the LightHouse for 23 years. Excitement seems to be the default tone of anyone who has invested in “the LightHouse kids.”

Don Webb is a former interim pastor at First United Methodist of Shreveport, where the program began. He’s wondered at times what might happen if Jesus came back to town today. Would he see the homeless sheltered, the distraught comforted, the hurting healed?   

“I believe He would come to the LightHouse, and find Himself at home there,” Webb said. “For He’d know what’s going on. He’d see faith at work, and feel the care; and He’d know the blessings in the faces of the children.

“What happens in the LightHouse is a win-win-win situation,” Webb said. “Christ’s heart is made glad that this work of active love makes so many whole and happy; the servant-leaders are made glad, in doing what they were born for and are finding joy in; and best of all, the children are made glad, as they are loved, and lifted to new levels of life.”

If that sounds over-the-top, you’ve never been either to a LightHouse graduation or to any of LightHouse’s six sites. Try it, or try to make one of the anniversary-week get-togethers. As it does for children, LightHouse will brighten your life.