By Nicole Collins
Road 678 Ministry, a new faith-based program of the Woodruff Community Center (WCC), matches mentors with at-risk middle school students and helps them with life skills.
The program operates as a subsdiary of the WCC, which is a nonprofit 501(c)3 community organization. The initial idea of the mentor program came from Fran Burgess, the director of the WCC, who wanted to help the Woodruff youth.
WCC volunteer Adrianna Alexander has been on board since the beginning planning stages, which started in late 2018. She is now the director of Road 678. Once they connected with the Woodruff Middle School, Alexander said things started moving really fast and they decided to start the program in January 2019.
The Woodruff Middle School guidance counselor refers at-risk sixth, seventh or eighth graders for the program. An at-risk student has one or more of these identifying factors: DSS involvement, parent or guardian deceased, drugs or alcohol abuse in the home, student has been in trouble with the police or student is self-harming. These students don’t know what a normal family situation is or realize how different their home situation is, Alexander said.
Currently Road 678 has 12 students participating and 13 mentors. Even though mentors outnumbered students at press time, Alexander said that mentors are always revolving, and they are always in need of mentors.
“The mentor relationship is really where we hone in on what that particular student is in need of,” Alexander said.
She added that sixth, seventh and eighth graders were the prime age group for the program because the middle school did not offer any type of mentor-based or faith-based programs, according to their research. Woodruff Elementary School students have the Good News Club and the Woodruff High School has other faith-based organizations, like Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“If we could catch students in their middle school years, we could potentially forever change their destiny,” Alexander said.
Road 678 meets every Thursday during the school year at the WCC from 3:30-6:30 p.m. Alexander prepares a lesson for each session that could be biblical in nature or related to a life skill. When the program concludes in the evening, mentors drive home their matched student.
One of Alexander’s top priorities for the program was that money and transportation would never be an issue for the students. She didn’t want any student to feel like he/she couldn’t participate in the program if they didn’t have transportation.
“Everything we do is free to the students and we always provide transportation to wherever we’re going,” Alexander said.
Funding for the program comes from private donations and covers costs such as operating expenses, food, field trips and graduation gifts for the students. When a student graduates from the eighth grade, Road 678 purchases the student a laptop. “We wanted to give [the students] a tool they could use in high school,” Alexander said.
During the summer, a local church donated $500 to Road 678 to just “do fun things with the kids” because many of the students do not get to do these type of things on a regular basis, or at all. Alexander said they planned events every 14 days to take the students to places like the movies, trampoline park and swimming pool.
Another summer adventure included a trip to the Ramp, a three-day youth conference in Hamilton, Ala. To cover expenses for the trip, Alexander and several volunteers raised $2,500 by working a firework stand and some of the students received sponsorships. Alexander said they even had enough to give the students some extra spending money.
Field trips are not reserved strictly for the summer. In October, the group went to the pumpkin patch at Stewart Farms in Enoree.
Though Alexander holds the title of director, she does not take a salary for her position. She has a degree in healthcare management from Clemson University and was a children’s’ pastor at her church for 17 years. When this opportunity came along, she felt like it was a natural next step for her. “I always had a heart for youth.”
Alexander encourages people who are interested in the program to come to one of the Thursday meetings. Anyone who wants to volunteer or become a mentor can contact Alexander directly at (864) 415-1049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.