One Friendship at a Time

Kids Hope USA shows the power of mentoring children
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When associate pastor Paul Miller first became a Kids Hope USA mentor to a child named Simon, the boy was in such frequent fights that he had a nearly permanent place in the principal's office. Simon's life has begun to change in the two-and-a-half years that he's met with Miller, pastor of Covenant Life Church in Grand Haven, Michigan.

"Sometimes we go over his homework, sometimes we play games or read books. Mostly we just talk," Miller says. "The principal told me that Simon has done a complete about-face in his respect for his peers, for authority, and for himself. All I do is show up each week. I believe in him and pay attention to him. Every week we end our time together the same way: I tell Simon he is a good kid, and he tells me he will do his best. I am amazed how God uses that hour in such big ways."

When Virgil Gulker developed Kids Hope to help at-risk children in public schools, he asked police, teachers, clergy, and social workers what the church could do for at-risk kids (many of whom live in impoverished and single-parent households). The resounding answer: What children need most is a stable relationship with a caring adult.

Gulker started Kids Hope in 1995 with three churches and schools in southwestern Michigan. Today 217 programs in 27 states provide mentors to about 3,800 children. Gulker connects a church with a neighboring elementary school, and church members become one-on-one mentors to at-risk students. A mentor spends one hour a week with a child—tutoring, helping with homework, playing, or just visiting. But the underlying purpose of the hour is to create a friendship with an adult that brings consistency to a child's life.

In nine school districts, all public elementary schools are matched with Kids ...

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