The Bethlehem Center
With two elementary school-age children and a younger child who is medically fragile, Jana was constantly feeling challenged to meet the individual needs of all her children. Chronic financial struggles caused additional stress on the family. Jamicka, nine years old, tried to display a positive outlook; while Jamal, seven, had a more difficult time processing his emotions. As Jana did her best to support her children with their emotional health, she also became concerned about keeping them focused on their schooling.
When Jana shared her worries with her neighbor Tamara, her friend immediately recommended that she enroll her kids in programs at the Bethlehem Center, a nonprofit organization that supports underserved youth and adults in the Chattanooga community. Tamara’s four children had been participating in Bethlehem Center programs for several years, with extremely positive results.
Jamicka and Jamal have been part of the after school and virtual learning programs at the Bethlehem Center, endearingly called “the Beth,” for over two years now. Affectionately referred to as Jam/Jam by the staff, they have thrived, both academically and emotionally. Support was extended to Jana, as well – providing referrals for assistance with medical support, transportation and food. Jana recently told Rachel DeVore, Bethlehem Center Director of Education: “The Beth has gotten me through these last two years. And I don’t know where my kids would be without you.”
With its inception dating back to 1920, and initial development driven by the passion and efforts of the two Methodist missionary women founders, the Bethlehem Center has become an integral part of the Chattanooga community. Their mission is based in empowering children and families through discipleship, education and leadership development. Their programs, which serve adolescents, young adults and adults, are varied and extensive.
"The Beth has gotten me through these last two years. And I don’t know where my kids would be without you.”
Key programs for adolescents include Virtual Learning Centers and the Read to Lead Academy. The primary young adults programs are Boys to Men at the Beth and the Bethlehem Leadership Unit (both for high school students). Their programs for adults, such as Community Connection Initiatives and Impact1!, provide support in diverse areas: economic empowerment, spiritual development and vocational training.
The Beth provides vital help to the community in the area of food insecurity and nutritional improvement through their Alton Park Community Urban Farm and Market and the Partnership Food Pantry. They created the Luke 10:25-37 Fund to provide individuals and families with technical assistance in times of emergency circumstances.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has required the Beth to modify practices to meet safety protocols, most of their programs are still operational. The one program that is experiencing the most significant impact is their Virtual Learning Centers. With ever-fluctuating school schedules, the Beth is facing critical challenges in serving the increasing number of elementary school students needing third party virtual schooling assistance. As of early December, available funds to continue operation of the Virtual Learning Centers are expected to be depleted by the end of this year. They also need referrals for adding qualified staff: retired teachers and education social work college student interns.
“Kids are better served by being in our programs; especially now, with all the disruptive circumstances,” DeVore explained. “These kids have no control over what’s happening. But what we as adults have control over is providing them with stability, consistency and support. And they need that now more than ever.”
Reginald F. Smith II, Executive Director of the Bethlehem Center, added: “Support for the Beth programs is investing in the young people of the Chattanooga community, as well as adults needing specific assistance. Not only do they deserve to be invested in; they are also the ones struggling the most right now.”
With decades of providing support and mentorship to our neighbors most in need of assistance, the Bethlehem Center continues to contribute to the vitality of our entire Chattanooga community.
To learn more about the Bethlehem Center and their programs and ongoing and immediate donation needs, please visit thebeth.org or call (423) 266-1384.