Chattanooga's St. Philip Lutheran Church comes to the rescue, will house Club Jesus

Chattanooga's St. Philip Lutheran Church comes to the rescue, will house Club Jesus

December 27th, 2011 by Yolanda Putman in News

Josephine Wortham talks about her struggles to keep Club Jesus afloat after the Chattanooga Housing Authority said she has too many children to operate the club at full capacity from her home. She plans to move it to St. Phillip Lutheran Church in January.

Photo by Alex Washburn/Times Free Press.

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For more information concerning Club Jesus, call Josephine Wortham at 635-0814.

Club Jesus has a new home.

By mid-January, the children's after-school program -- which sparked a dispute between the public housing resident who started it and the Chattanooga Housing Authority that said it had outgrown her apartment and become a liability -- expects to move to nearby St. Philip Lutheran Church.

"With the problems in most urban communities, with broken families, gangs, violence, we want the children to have an alternative that is positive," said the Rev. Meredith Jackson, pastor of St. Philip. "Children need to understand that there is hope and that they are not limited to where they are right now."

Josephine Wortham started Club Jesus in her home at the Emma Wheeler public housing site nearly two years ago. She gained recognition and funding from local agencies to support the program, which offers students snacks, activities, help with homework and safety.

But with more than 40 children attending daily, CHA officials told Wortham in November that the club had to move or shut down.

CHA offered Wortham access to the site's community building, but Wortham said being in the building meant someone else would have authority over her program, so she declined. Housing officials said Wortham could maintain authority over Club Jesus and that their offer to her still stands.

CHA officials said they had no further comments about the club.

Wortham said it will be several weeks before she can move into the church because some renovations are needed and she's doing them herself.

"I do Sheetrock and whatever painting is needed; I'm an excellent painter, and I can put down carpet," said the 55-year-old mother and grandmother.

She said she'll try to get help making minor repairs on the roof. And the church is allowing her to use its van to transport the children from Emma Wheeler to St. Philip on West 25th Street, about 3.5 miles away.

"If it's God's will, we'll be in the church by mid-January," she said. "We're going to work and see how fast the work is done."

Wortham said her goal with Club Jesus is to save a generation of youth who seem at risk for low academic achievement and a life of crime.

"No other community can solve problems inside our community," said Wortham. "We have to show ownership."

Some children are descended from generations of not succeeding, she said. They feel inferior because of where they live, and the public reinforces that feeling because of the way it views public housing sites.

"These are not projects. These are homes," said Wortham, who grew up in the defunct Maurice Poss Homes site near Alton Park.

Samantha Oliver, Wortham's daughter who helps operate the program, said the children of Emma Wheeler are just like other kids.

"They need the same thing as we did," she said. "If a child is left unattended, any child will get in trouble. Some of these kids were just left unattended."

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