Nehemiah Project opens Growing Minds Mentoring Center to help improve lives of at-risk kids

In order to have a positive impact on more young people in the area, the nonprofit organization Nehemiah Project will launch a new mentoring program in downtown Albemarle this month.

Growing Minds Mentoring will target at-risk students ages 8-12 primarily from Central Elementary before branching out to include students from other parts of the county. Connections have been made with principals, school counselors and Albemarle Director of Public Housing Dr. Kim Scott to make sure Nehemiah will target students who stand to most benefit from the program.

“The whole purpose of Growing Minds is if we pour into these kids, much like a plant, and they get the right nutrients and nutrition and love and care, they’re going to grow into what they were created to be,” said Paul Peters, executive director and founder of Nehemiah Project.

Growing Minds, which will be free to the public, is in a facility owned by Central United Methodist Church at 108 E. North St., Albemarle, and will be headed by Chase Jordan, the mentor director, and Tony Peek, Nehemiah’s director of community initiatives, in addition to Peters. It will be open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Thursday beginning this summer and extending into the upcoming school year. He estimates about 2o to 30 kids will be part of the first phase of the program.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our kids,” said Superintendent Jarrod Dennis, noting it will help address concerns of learning loss, especially during the summer.

A ribbon cutting for the new Growing Minds Mentoring Center in downtown Albemarle was conducted in late May. Photo courtesy of Christopher Keith.

Nehemiah is trying to raise $50,000 for the mentoring program. If people want to help, he said they can sponsor a child for $100 a week or for $700 for the entire summer program.

Growing Minds will incorporate elements of the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) curriculum along with enrichment activities, guest speakers and field trips. There will also be volunteer opportunities for the students to go into the community and help make a difference.

“We’re trying to teach these kids that it’s important to give back and it’s important to volunteer,” said Nehemiah Project board member Brandi Jordan, who worked with Peters to start the program. “In return, you’re going to raise up a new generation that has an understanding of what it means to volunteer and why we should volunteer.”

Peters hopes to partner with local high schools in order to get older students to want to serve as mentors for the program.

Growing Minds wants to connect with kids at an early age and then continue mentoring them throughout their K-12 career — even helping them get into college or secure a job once they graduate.

“We want to start now with these kids, give them a vision of what their future’s going to look like and then connect them with the right people to help make that happen,” Peters said.

The Nehemiah Project, founded by Peters in 2019, looks to serve people in six categories: the homeless, those suffering from addictions, veterans, at-risk adolescents and domestic violence survivors, senior citizens and those suffering mental health problems.

The new program is an extension of Nehemiah’s ongoing Lunch Buddy program which started before the COVID-19 pandemic and involves a group of volunteers having weekly lunches with upwards of 20 students each at Central and East elementary schools.

“I feel like there’s a huge need in our community for mentors and strong figures to support our school children,” said school board member Carla Poplin, who also serves on the board of Nehemiah and has volunteered as a lunch buddy. “So when Paul brought the idea to us, obviously I was excited about it just because of my position on the school board and knowing the great need post-Covid because of the learning loss we’re trying to make up.”