Gangs were trying to take over the cities, and young men were killing each other weekly. At the same time, the Holy Spirit began stirring churches in Pulaski County to be part of the solution. A few people from local churches believed Jesus was directing them to the Eastgate Terrace community, statistically the most troubled neighborhood in our cities.
Initially, STEP volunteers built a playground, started a reading readiness program for Pre-K students, and established the Encourager Program at Pine Elementary for the school year. It was through the initiation of the Encourager Program that God revealed his plan to change the community… one-on-one relationships. As volunteers looked toward the summer, they ran into one of the students from Pine. They asked her if she would help them recruit kids for a new program, and she did! Those eight students formed our first Mentoring Program. The Mentoring Program mirrored the Encourager program in focusing on one-on-one relationships.
Hundreds of volunteers have served through STEP Ministries. Some having loved a child for a season and others still enjoying a relationship years after graduation from the programs… but all have walked away changed. Similarly, many of our children have benefited from these stable, long-term, one-on-one relationships. Many have allowed Jesus to break the cycles of fatherlessness, violence, and generational poverty that the Holy Spirit stirred hearts to address so many years ago.
Today, STEP Ministries still serves children at the Family Outreach Center in the Eastgate Terrace community through the Mentoring and Tutoring Programs. The Encourager Program has expanded to dozens of schools all over Pulaski County. All of these programs still have one-on-one relationships as their foundation. With generations of history in the neighborhood, we also get visits from some of the “STEP Alums.” They love to tell stories of how their days in STEP were some of their best and how important those relationships were and are to them.
In hindsight, it’s clear that Jesus led us all to Eastgate… churches, volunteers, and children alike. We hope that you’ll join us in this incredible story that God is still writing. Come… Serve… Grow!