Lifting Hearts along with Grades

Putting opportunity in the hands and hearts of Philly's kids

A girl leafs through “Moses” — one of the beginner books in the Mission: Literacy curriculum. Photo by Malorie Tull.

On her way to class, Tori* navigates garbage-strewn city streets, passing areas that drug pushers and prostitutes frequent. She has faced many challenges in her young life, but she's taking steps to improve her future.

Just a few months ago, Tori had been reading at a level two years below that of her peers. She was often lost in class, confused and lacking confidence. But where many decide to give up when things get difficult, Tori decided to get help.

She began the American Bible Society's Mission: Literacy™ program at the Salvation Army in Philadelphia Citadel, and that has made all the difference in her life. Mission: Literacy is a national, comprehensive reading program based entirely on biblical stories for elementary-level children. As the children progress through each of the stories, the words and sentence structures become more complex as do the biblical teachings.

In Philadelphia, ABS has partnered with the Salvation Army to reach out to kids who need a place to go after school for more help and guidance in their studies. With the Mission: Literacy curriculum, though, there's the added bonus of exposing these children to the word of God and showing them that they are valued — some, for the first time in their lives.

“Many of these kids don't get a lot of love,” says Major Andrew Murray, who has been a senior pastor at the Salvation Army in Philadelphia Citadel for seven years. “They need to know that God loves them, regardless of what has happened in the past. There are all kinds of things that they face, that they've been through, that they’ve done…but there's a God who loves them unconditionally.”

Results are seen quickly

Brian Cavanaugh, a tutor for Mission: Literacy™ in Philadelphia, has been on staff only a few months, but he shares the life change that occurs when a child is given opportunities he or she normally wouldn't have had. After just two months of tutoring, Tori came bounding into Cavanaugh's room, saying, “I passed! I got a B!”

That was the first time in fourth grade that she had received anything higher than a D.

Mission: Literacy tutor Brian Cavanaugh leads two boys through one of the books the Mission: Literacy curriculum. Photo by Malorie Tulll.

“To see her be able to move from a second grade level so quickly…it's just amazing,” says Cavanaugh. “I could see a change in the way she presented herself. When I go down into the classroom…she's now helping other kids saying, ‘Oh, I already know how to do this! Let me help you.' She's now becoming the leader in the room.”

In addition to educating children, Mission: Literacy™ fosters spiritual development. A family of three that had never been to church began coming regularly after joining the Mission: Literacy™ program. Cavanaugh recounts: “It was amazing to see the youngest from the family come running into Mission: Literacy™ and say, ‘We can skip this story! We learned about it in Sunday school. I'm ready for the next book now!'

While Mission: Literacy™ is setting these kids up for success, it's also a practical way to reach out to them with stories of the Bible. In the process, they experience the love of God.

“In our children's programs, we've seen kids come to know God. We've seen them accept Christ as their savior,” shares Pastor Murray. “We see children who have started to say, ‘Can I have a Bible to take home?'”

*Name changed

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