published Saturday, April 20th, 2013

Faith Focus: Tyner's TASK helps students

Earl Whittaker says he and Nancy Alexander weren't testing God and certainly didn't doubt him, but they knew a lot of disparate things needed to happen to accomplish what they had in mind.

Not only did things fall into place for the tutoring program the two members started in February at Tyner United Methodist Church, they've also seen progress with the group of 16 children who enrolled.

"It was pretty daunting," Whittaker says. "We knew if it was going to happen, God would have to be in this."

Plumbing the idea from a suggestion in 2000 by a former pastor's wife, and basing it on a similar program at Bethlehem Center, the Tyner After School Kids (TASK) program involves reading and math tutoring of identified at-risk children -- whose parents welcome the help -- in grades kindergarten through third grade at nearby Bess T. Shepherd Elementary School.

The church agreed to provide rooms for the program, but there was no money in the budget for it, Whittaker says. He and Alexander had to recruit donations and volunteers.

They figured they would need $2,500 to get the program off the ground and take it through the rest of the school year. Church and community members saw the need and ponied up the money.

One woman getting her taxes done in a free program located at the church heard about TASK and made a sizable donation. Another individual committed the money to pay for snacks through the end of the school year.

"Every time we've needed something," Whittaker says, "someone stepped up. That's how things have fallen into place."

The same thing happened with volunteers, he says. They needed 11 and got that many. Even people who said they couldn't help at first have come back to volunteer one day a week or a day every other week.

The students attend the free program Monday through Thursday, exiting the school bus around 3:30 p.m. at a stop near the church. The first half-hour involves snacks, a student-led prayer and biblical songs and stories. An education half-hour on the computer -- 12 used computers were donated for the program -- and a half-hour on homework follow. The last half-hour is spent on arts and crafts. Any remaining time is spent in outdoor or indoor recreation before parents arrive before 6 p.m.

One student, Alexander says, already has been designated most-improved in her class in reading.

"We've been getting feedback from parents and teachers," he says. "If a child can read, he can move; he can advance."

Though Whittaker and Alexander are coordinators for the program, a paid administrator who also is a reading interventionist, shepherds the day-to-day operation.

TASK will end for the year in mid-May, but facilitators plan to pick up again with 14 additional students identified as at-risk shortly after the 2013-2014 school year begins in August.

Unlike outreach programs at some churches that begin with the best of intentions but peter out for one reason or another, Whittaker vows that TASK is here to stay.

"I definitely believe this one will be around for a while," he says. "If God wasn't in this, it wouldn't have gotten to where it's gotten to."

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts at

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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