The Wilson County Civic League tutoring program is making the most of local donations to help students succeed in school and in life.
Leslyne Watkins, program coordinator, is proud of the program, its growth and how it has helped two generations of students open doors through discipline and academic success.
"We're here on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 5-6:30 p.m.," she said. "We have four local teachers from the local school district and college-bound high school students who teach the children."
The program, started in 1994, not only helps students with an ever-growing homework burden, but also gives parents a safe place for their children to get the academic help they need.
Latoya Ferguson's 7-year-old daughter has become a better student because she is tutored at the program housed in the Market Street Community Center.
"She had behavioral problems - talking too much," Ferguson said of her daughter. "Here, she realized she had to buckle down."
Watkins said Ferguson was part of her intercity Girl Scout Troop at the center 18 years before.
"She loves coming here," Ferguson said. "She gets off the school bus at 3 p.m. and starts saying, 'Don't forget I have tutoring today.'"
Watkins said getting the children on the right track academically is the key.
"Most graduate from high school," she said. "The important thing is it builds that foundation."
Marisela Martinez's son and daughter, and Adriana Gomez's two sons all attend the program.
"They really like it here," Martinez said. And Gomez agreed.
Regina Symonette is the director of the tutoring program. She is also a teacher at Byars-Dowdy Elementary School.
"I've been doing this for two years," she said. "It's great to watch them grow and progress. It's advertised by word of mouth. It benefits the students, and it's great to see them blossom."
The program is made possible by funds from the United Way of Wilson County, Cracker Barrel outreach programs and help from individual donors.
Shanta Ayub is a Cracker Barrel employee volunteering with the program for four years. She is also something of a Santa since she brings candy and toys to the students on occasion.
"I like it," she said. "It's something I can do to give back, and Cracker Barrel does want to give back as well."
The college-bound high school students include Watkins' granddaughter and namesake, who plans a pre-med study course and Symonette's daughter, Leah - also destined for pre-med studies. Wakins' grandson, Marcus, helps out as well, along with Dinesha Cseay, who is also planning to be a doctor and aspires to attend Vanderbilt University.
"I enjoy doing it," Marcus Watkins said. "I'm going to UT/Martin or MTSU to study criminal justice."
Kasey Watson is a teacher at Byars-Dowdy as well, and one of the four teachers the program can afford to pay.
"I love it and the kids love it, too," she said as she satwith four students and a stack of flash cards on the floor.
Evelyn McGregor is a retired teacher with 37 years of teaching experience, who volunteers with the program. She was last seen was supervising six students while they did their homework.
"We have about 25 active students," Watkins said. "With only four teachers, our limit is technically 20 students, but with student absences and volunteers, we're still able to manage. If they come, we don't turn them away.
Still, she said if the program had more funds, they could help more students by hiring more teachers. The program could also use a van to take students home at the end of the day since it is dark when they are dismissed. Watkins said a local church helped with transportation during the spring session, but she didn't want the program to "wear out its welcome." She has a man who is willing to drive; she just needs some reliable wheels.
"The kids need a community center; they need somewhere to go," Watkins said. "Here, they can learn, too. That makes me feel good."
Anyone who would like to contribute money, time or a van to the tutoring program, can contact Watkins at the center at 321 East Market Street in Lebanon or call 615-449-0719.
"I don't turn down any help," Watkins said.
Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 45 or firstname.lastname@example.org.