Church at Charlotte seeks the welfare of our Charlotte community by investing intentionally into the spiritual, emotional, and social lives of vulnerable children through our ServeLocal ministry. One of the ways we do this is coordinate volunteers who serve as tutors or lunch buddies with local vulnerable children. This interview with Julie Deuink is part of a series of interviews with these volunteers. To learn more about volunteering in this way, please contact Andrea Howell.
Why did you get involved in volunteering to tutor?
It’s interesting that you ask that question, because I can’t remember specifically what prompted me to get involved with tutoring! A long time ago, probably 20 years now, I attended a women’s conference on mercy ministry. One of the texts used was Tim Keller’s book, The Call of the Jericho Road. It radically changed my thinking about my purpose and my opportunities to serve my “neighbors.” I began actively looking for ways that I could be a help to people beyond my normal daily interactions and intentionally crossing socio-economic and racial divisions. The Lord opened the doors to so many opportunities, doors that perhaps He had opened before, but I hadn’t the courage to walk through.
After we moved to Charlotte, I started tutoring at Jackson Park Ministries. I can’t remember how the Lord connected me to JPM, but He did. Once or twice each week, I’d pick up my sons from school and we’d head over to JPM to tutor in their after-school program.
Then in 2010, CAC launched their outreach into the Gladedale community. It was a perfect fit for me!
What expectations did you have about the experience?
In the beginning I had very lofty (read: unrealistic!) goals for the students I tutored. I imagined sitting in a library-type setting with a student highly motivated to sit quietly, stay focused, and learn. That’s not how it turned out. 🙂
What has tutoring been like for you?
Tutoring is one of the highlights of my adult life. It’s nothing like I expected, but more amazing than I could have ever imagined.
Can you tell one or two stories that help show your experience?
I have been tutoring at Gladedale for six years now, so I’ve watched many of the kids grow up. I consider it a tremendous privilege to help little ones learn their letter sounds, begin sounding out words, and then read a sentence. That’s exciting! The little ones are eager to interact with our tutoring team and love the one-on-one attention; it’s a blessing to invest in their lives and learning.
But I also consider it a privilege to work with the older students in upper elementary/middle school grades, some who may not enjoy school or academics and would rather play outside than do homework. When they come to the community center to get help on their classwork, that is also exciting to me! I consider my role equal parts tutor and cheerleader. Students need the right tools and understanding to academically succeed, but they also need someone to believe in them, to encourage them to try, to imagine the possibilities.
Some of the older students, however, are very academically motivated and just need a little assistance with math concepts or writing structure. Imagine helping a student excel in a subject that they will use the rest of their lives. That’s exciting too! (Gratefully there are some gifted math tutors to help the older students; upper level math is NOT my gifting!)
As a tutoring team, we’ve also been privileged to help prepare graduating seniors for college…suggesting edits on college application essays, helping research college options, registering for SAT and ACT tests, etc. We are sharing life with these students; that’s amazing to me, that we get to experience these momentous occasions with them!
Tutoring isn’t always easy. There are challenges and sometimes difficult days, but I cling to the hope that He is using it for His good in all our lives.
What has been the hardest part?
For me the hardest part is realizing that I am not the “fix” or the answer to the challenges my students face….my role is to encourage and help them however I can. I have to remind myself of that realization every time I tutor!
What has been the best part?
Where do I start? And how can I narrow to “best”? There have been so many amazing blessings that I can’t begin to settle on just one experience!
In an effort to encapsulate what is “best,” it would be the joy of relationships that I’ve developed with the students that I tutor and with the other tutors from Church at Charlotte. I work with great kids each week…kids that aren’t always focused and intent on learning, but always leave my heart full of joy (very similar to my parenting experience with my own kids!)
And the tutors I serve alongside are amazing godly men and women who love these kids with a sacrificial and joy-filled love. It is a blessing to serve with them! It’s a layer of Christian community that I treasure; we work together toward a common goal of improving academic understanding and sharing the love of Jesus. It’s a great thing.
How have you been impacted by tutoring?
Again, these are hard questions! My life has changed immeasurably because of my involvement with the students and families at Gladedale and at Sharon Elementary. You don’t have enough space or time for me to fully answer this!
We each have a responsibility to care for other people…in His providence, God has used tutoring to deepen my commitment to “loving my neighbor”. It’s given me insight into the challenges these neighbors face, challenges that are very different and yet very similar to the challenges I face each day.
What do you see as the value of tutoring—in the life of the student and the life of the volunteer?
It’s a whole lot more about the relationship than the academics. While I definitely work to improve the literacy and math skills of my students, my first and foremost goal is to show them the love and grace of Jesus. In Keller’s book, he draws a direct corollary between the grace and love I’ve received from Him and my response to the world around me. This is what keeps me focused and committed to tutoring. I am to love these little ones with a Jesus love…all the while helping them expand their learning. Sometimes I see the direct result of my efforts when a child successfully learns multiplication tables or grasps a new math concept or improves their reading comprehension. But even if that hoped-for improvement isn’t readily observed, I hold fast to the belief that it is His work, not mine, and that He continues to work in their lives. I know it sounds trite, but if the work He has allowed me to do makes the difference in just one child’s life, then it will be well worth my time and commitment!