Pathways to Possibilities

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Grand Rapids, Mich.
(616) 967-6749

Objective: To help more youths, especially those in central city communities, enter and complete post-secondary education.

In a Nutshell: Calvin College, a Christian college in Grand Rapids with more than 4,000 students, has partnerships with 17 churches located in the central Michigan cities of Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Holland. The program has four major components: a four-week academic achievement program for minority 11th- and 12th-graders; a simulated college experience for students in grades seven through 10; a campus visit program for kids from elementary school to high school; and local college preparation programs.

Where It Happens:
The local prep programs are run at area churches; the other three components take place at Calvin College.

When It Began: 1994, after a summer of increased youth-on-youth killings in the area.

Who Started It:
Inner-city pastors and college representatives Randal Jelks and Steve Timmermans met after that summer to develop supplemental educational activities (summer programming, after-school tutorials) and build college aspirations for youth as young as fourth grade.

Who Runs It: Rhae-Ann Booker, director for pre-college programs at Calvin College. The staff includes a full-time administrative assistant and a part-time coordinator at each of the partner churches.

Early Obstacles: The most significant early obstacle was moving from identifying the need to implementing the program. According to Booker, the churches were not used to working on projects with other groups, so it took some time to develop a budget and find outside financial support.

How They Overcame Them: “Constant reminders to ourselves that it was for the kids,” says Booker. “The reason for their uniting far outweighed any differences. The churches began to realize that they are a significant neighborhood resource to support the education of kids.”

Cost: The program operates on about $250,000 a year, with money for special programs such as the STEP college simulation program and the Entrada college prep courses.

Who Pays: Corporate funding from grocery retailer Meijers and a locally based national furniture manufacturer that requests anonymity. Calvin College contributes $150,000.

Who Else Has Kicked In: Partner churches also contribute.

2,040 fourth- through 12th-grade youths have participated in the program. The Entrada and STEP programs are available to the public, but the college visit program is only for youth who attend partnering churches and outreach ministries or who live in the church neighborhood. Approximately 75 percent of the participants are black.

Research Shows: Of those participants now past the time of expected high school completion, 71 percent have entered some form of post-secondary education while the other 29 percent are “untrackable” or not continuing education.

Youth Turn-On: Going to a college campus, hanging out with college students and having access to college resources like the library, computer lab, gym, swimming pool and nature preserve. There are also incentives for participation, such as free concert tickets.

Youth Turn-Off: The presentations are academic-intensive and are seen as an extension of the school day. “We work hard to find the right balance between education and fun with the events that are offered,” says Booker. “We want kids to know that learning and education can actually be fun.”

What Still Gets in the Way: The program is constantly looking for additional funding with long-term commitments, and has taken criticism for excluding non-parishioners from the campus visit program.