It was about five years ago when Kevin East told a now former neighbor he was going to change jobs and become president of The Mentoring Alliance.
The Christ-centered ministry is designed to help improve the lives of children and families in tough social and economic circumstances.
Skeptical of the program’s effectiveness, the neighbor told East he was wasting his time.
East said he understands how his former neighbor may have responded so strongly and hopelessly, given the negative statistics and press about the outcomes of those who grow up in dire situations.
“I know what it’s like to hear and see the stories of people far off but when you’re not close, when you don’t have the proximity to really understand what that pain and that hurt and that brokenness looks and feels like, it’s easy just to kind of cast aspersionstowards those people,” he added. “When you get near to them, you call them friend and it gets much different.”
This idea has helped lead East and other staff and volunteers with the Mentoring Alliance.
The Mentoring Alliance serves about 1,200 children each day through its three programs: the Boys & Girls Clubs of East Texas, Gospel Village and Rose City Summer Camps.
Speaking to a crowd of about 380 people during the alliance’s annual luncheon on Thursday, East touted the progress the program has made and encouraged attendees to continue to support its ministries as it looks to improve the lives of local children.
Citing several statistics about students in the community, East said 26 percent of households in Smith County are led by single parents, 71 percent of Tyler ISD students come from families below poverty level and 64 percent of TISD students are considered at risk for not graduating from high school.
East then noted several ways The Mentoring Alliance is targeting issues to improve student outcomes.
Through Gospel Village, about 175 people, representing 25 different churches in the community, are mentoring children, almost all of whom are referred to the program by TISD.
East said disciplinary problems from students who are mentored often decrease. On average, students who participated in Rose City Summer Camps this summer also left with a higher math proficiency when compared with peers from their schools who didn’t attend, East said.
The alliance’s Boys and Girls Clubs ministry now operates in 18 locations in schools in Bullard, Whitehouse and Tyler.
Dr. Mike Russell, of Azalea Orthopedics, the presenting sponsor of Thursday’s luncheon, said he’s enjoyed being involved in the ministry. He serves as the board chairman and said he hopes the program inspires change not just in the local community, but also all over.
“It just takes a spark and the Holy Spirit moves in mighty and great ways,” he said. “I believe with all my heart that God wants the mission of this local organization to spread and to bless people beyond Tyler.”