Sometimes I weary of the rattle and thrum of incessant bad news: the screaming headlines portending (or portraying) death, destruction, economic cataclysms, cynicism and tawdriness. We all need to, from time to time, shake ourselves free of umbrage and divisiveness and seek out the good and true things around us. They’re there – they just don’t get the press.
A case in point: The True Freedom Learning Center in St. Marys, Ga You may take this as an advertisement if you wish but it is intended as a tale of seemingly small but profound and hard-won triumphs in the face of almost insurmountable odds.
I’d not known of this place until happenstance found me on a board with one Loretta Hutchinson. We sat around that table together for months and I only knew that she was a woman of uncommon compassion and grace. One day she asked me if I’d like to visit “the Center” that she owned and operated with her husband, Kevin. I was surprised to learn that this place was less than a ten-minute drive from my door and readily agreed (not knowing what lay ahead and the changes that it would make in my own life).
I followed her directions and arrived at a very large, pale yellow, two-story building. As Loretta walked me through the rooms she explained their work. The Learning Center is a “gap-filler.” They labor around the clock: striving, with single-minded determination, to close the many holes in our social and educational fabric.
As schools systematically remove art and music from student’s lives, the Center expands those vital elements of any child’s development. As parents struggle to make ends meet and care for their children, the Center increases daycare services that rival even the most exclusive and expensive facilities. When the lost or disenfranchised among us teeter at the brink of the chasm, the Center is there to catch them before they fall. Literacy programs, advocacy for those who must navigate the maze of DFACs and other frightening acronyms, support and encouragement – this is the crucial work of The True Freedom Learning Center.
At one time Loretta and Kevin Hutchinson pulled in professional incomes that ensured all the comforts, kudos and complacency that come with financial ease and social position. But they chose to leave the certainty behind and “do God’s work.” (Given their 18-hour days now, I wouldn’t blame them at all if they, occasionally, looked skyward and said “Oh, please…give us a break!”).
The Center itself is impressive: a well-equipped media room, chapel, kitchens, boardrooms and offices. But it is the daycare that acts as the living heart of this organization.
First I saw the infant’s room. Here children as young as six weeks old recline in bright and lovely surroundings, carefully tended by a loving staff member. Then it was on to the toddler’s area – a gorgeous space of color and energy, filled with some of the happiest children I’ve ever encountered. Then to the three-to-four year old’s realm where children gleefully regaled me with their “letters and colors and songs.”
Then I was introduced to my own assumptions for I’d simply leapt to the conclusion that these were all the children of stable, affluent homes for they seemed imbued with self-confidence. I was to learn that the kids who benefit from the services here are representative of many diverse walks of life, races, religious affiliations, economic brackets and households.
Perhaps that diversity is just part of the magic of this place.
Loretta and I stood in the corner, watching, and she told me the background of some of these children. “That one’s mom is just a kid herself but we’re helping her get her GED.” “Oh, that sweetie is having a hard time as his parents fight though a divorce.” “Her parents are so involved.” and “That little one is so close to being able to read.”
Some children arrive at 6 a.m. without having had breakfast; some come full of energetic laughter, eager to begin the day; some come silent and withdrawn from whatever drama they’d witnessed the night before; some hug their mom or dad goodbye and run to the door – but no matter what their home-situation may be, all are fed the same nutritious meals, taught and loved. And all flourish in this environment of tender care. The children don’t see the difference in their circumstances (they won’t learn that until they’re older) and the staff knows well that all children are created equal.
I was hooked then and there and have since done (and will continue to do) all within my power to help out in any way I can. People are beginning to rally to the call by offering to volunteer, donate clothing and books and more. Kindness can be like dominoes falling.
Two nights ago I took a notion to enter the unknown waters of website building so that I could “get the word out” about this invaluable community resource. Here is the result. http://www.truefreedomlearningcenter.com/?alt_id=NL99C-9A626-3W5&ts=1283178881281
There may be a place around the corner from you – a place that changes lives and exists to serve your community. Walk away from the din of “bad news” occasionally… and look around at the “good news.” It will do your heart a world of good.