Forty-two children from Highland Park, Oak Grove and Ridgedale gathered in the backyard of local retiree Otis Rumph Sr. for the community's 11th annual "Out of School" party May 27.
Filled with delicious food, bouncy houses and plenty of games, the party has long been a way for neighborhood children ages 2-18 who have passed their classes to celebrate the accomplishment with family and friends.
Rumph started the event in 2006 to provide local kids with an incentive to work hard in school, but it isn't the only activity he does regularly to motivate the students.
In addition to parties at Christmas and the Fourth of July, Rumph also presents students with monetary gifts for their grades when progress reports come out. For each "A" the students earn, he gives them $5. Each "B" is rewarded with $4, and every "C" gets $3. The reward is one local children have come to love, he said.
"I don't have to look for them — they come looking for me," Rumph laughed. But it goes far beyond money, he added. "I want the kids to know that anything is possible with this education."
Rumph's passion for the neighborhood children comes not only from his earlier volunteer service at Alton Park Middle School, Tyner Academy and Howard School of Academics and Technology, but also from his personal life. As a father who now regrets once letting work distract him from his own children, Rumph has seen the difference having a male role model can have on a child's life.
"I know some damn good mothers, but kids also need that male side," he said. "And if you don't have that, it doesn't matter how successful you are; you're still missing something."
Rumph said many of the children he interacts with come from single-family homes. By becoming a presence in their lives, he said he has become someone they're able to communicate issues with and relate to.
Rumph shares that mentorship opportunity with other respectable community figures during the Out of School celebration. For the last four or so years, police officers and firemen have attended the party, bringing gifts and playing games with the children. The servicemen provide positive role models for the kids, Rumph explained, and this year, even Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke attended to show his support.
Though the event isn't widely advertised, Rumph welcomes anyone who shows up to the party, and he hopes to continue doing so for many years to come.
"I'm not rich or anything. ... I just believe in giving back to the community," said Rumph."I just hope I can touch some kids' lives."