October Update

 Members of the local Mennonite youth group help paint and clean the new Learning Center

Members of the local Mennonite youth group help paint and clean the new Learning Center

September has been a productive and busy month. It was a pleasure to visit with the congregations at Emmanuel, Broadmoor, and Church for the Highlands. It was also good to see a few of members of University Baptist, as we picked up a second round of young adult literature which they've generously donated. The books have been distributed with both Bags of Hope and the teachers at General Trass High School. Regarding Bags of Hope, the results have been tremendous, as we raised over $6,000 in cash donations and nearly $2,000 worth of materials. Teachers at Southside Elementary (and leaders of the Art Club) identified key school supplies needed for their students. The materials have been purchased and delivered directly to their classrooms. 

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The location of the Learning Center also moved in September. The new space is just down the street, and it's larger, providing more office and programming space. It's also better equipped for internet service, which was nearly impossible in the previous building. This move also presented an opportunity to partner with members of the local Mennonite community, as they are currently selling baked goods on the street in front of the new space. 

The downtown has a renewed energy on the days when they're selling their items, and it's good that Together for Hope can work with them to make their efforts more sustainable. The building also received a deep cleaning and a fresh coat of paint, thanks to help from Americorps volunteers in Vicksburg and from the Mennonite youth group. 

In October, in addition to our regular programming, we'll also offer a Computer Literacy course for community members. This free course will meet three times during the month.

Thank you, again, for all the ways you support the ministry and the town of Lake Providence. Every donation and every dollar makes an impact. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.

August/September '18 Update

Greetings from Lake Providence!

The busy summer has come to a close - now, if only the heat would subside, as well. I'm back to a regular teaching schedule with the adult education program in Lake Providence. I'm excited to share that two students made quick work of their GED and are already graduated! Others are quickly following in their path. We're on pace for our third testing date in Lake Providence in a few weeks, and we'll have more coming in the months ahead. It's a tremendous gift for students to be able to test here, in town, as compared to over an hour away. 

The Learning Center has changed venues in downtown Lake Providence, though we only moved two lots down on Lake Street. The new building is better suited for internet, has more space, and can be more easily adapted for multi-purpose programming in the future. We've also entered into an interesting partnership with a group of extraordinary Mennonite bakers. They began selling their baked goods on the street in front of the new Learning Center earlier this summer before we moved. The town is thrilled to have our Mennonite friends selling baked goods again, and we at Together for Hope certainly don't want to discourage their entrepreneurial spirit (and delicious extra calories).

It was also a special joy to have my calling for this ministry reaffirmed on Sept. 9 at Church for the Highlands with an ordination service. I certainly extend my gratitude to this congregation and to all of the other CBF-LA congregations, as you've all supported me during these two years in the Delta. I look forward also to being able to visit with Emmanuel Baptist and Broadmoor Baptist later this month. 

Thank you all, again, for supporting the ministry and the people of Lake Providence. Your work and donations with Bags of Hope, HiSET scholarships, and more, is greatly appreciated.  

Summer '18 Update

Greetings from Lake Providence!

The summer has sped by here in the Delta. On July 28, we celebrated our sixteenth year of Bags of Hope, distributing book bags and raising funds for additional supplies to support Southside Elementary. It was a festive morning with face painting, music, a bounce house, hot dogs and snow cones. We're deeply appreciative to all of the volunteers who made the day possible, from CBF Louisiana folks to the Southside teachers and administrators. Please keep our teachers, families, and students in your prayers as they begin a new school year on August 8. 

We were also grateful to have Woodland Baptist from Louisville, KY, to return for their sixth year of partnering with with us in Lake Providence. We ran our second annual Reading Skills Camp at Southside Elementary in the mornings, and then braved the heat and humidity in the afternoon to complete other work projects around town. Students were able to work one-on-one with volunteer tutors to practice their reading skills and comprehension abilities, as well as making arts and crafts and enjoying outdoor recreation. The volunteers from Woodland enjoyed kayaking on the lake, eating at the Dream Eatery, and taking a drive through the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge (complete with many alligator sightings).  

Though the adult education programs slowed down during July, one student finished her final test and is now our eighteenth graduate. This student worked tremendously hard in the night program, putting in long hours of learning algebra, geometry, etc., as she tackled the five tests. Several GED students have moved into nursing programs through Louisiana Delta Community College. Please keep in your prayers the new students who will begin their GED this fall, along with our graduates, as they continue building their careers and finding work. 

Thank you all, again, for helping in the many ways that you did with Bags of Hope. Please also remember that one GED student can be sponsored for $100, which helps provide a workbook and the cost of the battery of tests necessary for the GED. Please contact Marc if you, your congregation, or your Sunday School class is interested in sponsoring a student. 

Blessings,

Marc

April '18 Update

Greetings from Lake Providence!

As I write this, my heart is full of gratitude for the volunteers and contributors who helped make our recent work project at the community college such a success. After planting, mulching, carpeting, painting, sanding, filing, shredding, bulletin-board-ing, and much more, the campus looks wonderful! The students, staff, and faculty are all tremendously grateful for the love that CBF-LA poured into beautifying the school. Morale and energy has certainly been lifted! Thank you!

I'm also grateful today for having more graduates from the GED program. Word reached me this morning that a student received a passing grade on her final test. The cost of her testing ($90) was covered by a HiSet scholarship made possible through Together for Hope. I'm partnering with First Baptist Church (Lake Providence) and Teach for America to provide a graduation ceremony on May 16 for the seven graduates I've had since the last ceremony in November. 

Also, please keep Saturday, October 6th, roughly 10 AM to 3 PM, on your calendar for a visit to Lake Providence. Together for Hope is working with community members who are organizing the first "LeveeFest 5K." This will feature a 5K race, a children's one mile fun run, food and art vendors, and live music. The funds raised will contribute to efforts to beautify the downtown. A website will launch soon with additional information for signing up to race or to apply as an art vendor. CBF-LA is invited to participate in running and/or volunteering with event set-up, mid-festival help, and/or breakdown afterwards. More info will come as we get into the summer months. 

Lastly, we'll work to raise funds and resources for Southside Elementary School, again, this year. As I'm able to finalize a date with the administration, we will begin planning in May and June. 

Thank you all, again, for all that you continue to do for East Carroll Parish and the town of Lake Providence. 

March '18 Update

Mark your calendars: Lake Providence is hosting its first "Levee Festival and 5K" on Saturday, October 6. We need CBF Louisiana folks to be involved either by: 1) signing up to run/walk, or 2) serving as a volunteer, helping with set-up, logistics, and break down. We'll need lots of volunteers and runners, so please plan to make the trip to Lake Providence to participate in a fun-filled Saturday! There will also be a one mile fun run for younger children.

The run will begin in the morning, while the downtown will have arts and craft vendors, food trucks, and live music. Lake Providence's Downtown Revitalization Committee is hosting the event in order to raise money to continue beautification/development efforts for the town. We'll be launching a website in latter April where you can sign up for the race and to get more general information about the event.

In addition to helping plan this event, I'm continuing to teach GED courses, along with coordinating a basic literacy course, computer literacy, and beginner's math classes. I've also been able to work with high school students recently, helping them think through certain college and career options after they graduate. It's been reported that only two or three local high school students actually enrolled and began college from last year's graduating class. 

I'm looking forward to CBF Louisiana coming up on April 21 for our gathering and a time to volunteer at the community college. We'll be working to take care of some greatly needed beautification projects on campus, which the state budget will not allow to be remedied. If you plan to come up on Friday, take advantage of the hotel options in Tallulah, Vicksburg, or nearby Oak Grove. Blessings!

Winter '17/'18 Update

It's been a cold, wet start to the year in Lake Providence. Towns throughout the Louisiana Delta have suffered from water problems due to aging infrastructure and strapped municipal budgets. High school students in Lake Providence missed an entire week of school due to heating issues related to the school's boiler system. Neighboring towns declared states of emergency as days and weeks went by with severely limited access to clean water. 

After a rough beginning, though, things seem to be getting back on track. Many local Lake Providence adults have started their adventure in the Licensed Practical Nursing program at the community college. Many community partners, including Together for Hope, are working together to assist them on their eighteen month program. The branch of the college in town offers a very small number of programs, and programs like Practical Nursing can only be started once every year and a half. When that window of opportunity closes, adult learners have few other options to pursue a college or vocational/technical education. Please be in prayer for these students as they work hard to achieve their goals and begin building a better future for themselves and their families. 

Along these same lines, Together for Hope continues to push toward creating educational opportunities for local residents. I'm currently working with a local organization to provide additional tutoring for any nursing students who may need extra help with math. Also, a local resident, not in the nursing program, approached me recently to seek help with reading. This individual - in her late 30s - isn't able to read at all. Through the Learning Center, I'll be working with a local tutor and with this individual as she pushes toward her goal of learning to read. Likewise, the GED courses are continuing with a new group of students. They're working very hard and starting to take (and pass) the five subtests that they have to complete in order to earn their diploma. We celebrate with our first graduate of 2018, LaTonya, who finished in January.

Lastly, the local public high school has been richly blessed to have a new teacher, Patrick Neeley - a long time friend of Together for Hope and gifted artist - who is teaching art classes at the school. His fellow teacher (and fiance), Liz Henke, continues to work with the Art Club. Through Together for Hope, these students have access to art supplies (e.g., modeling clay, water colors, pastels) that the school would otherwise not be able to provide. 

Thank you for your continued prayers and gifts! 

December '17 Update

The town is currently bustling with Christmas energy! White-light Christmas trees are dotting the Hwy. 65 roadside by the lake. Decorations are up on the lamp posts, the tree is lit at the courthouse, and the community choir is preparing for its annual concert.

The students in the GED class are busy at work, as well, trying to finish their degrees before the end of the fall semester. Eleven students are in the process of completing their five tests, and hopefully four or five students will have completed all of the parts before Christmas. For those who don’t, they’ll keep chipping away at the tests in January after holiday festivities have come to a close.

Between the months of November 2016 and October 2017, I had seven GED graduates. While I’m happy with this number, I’m especially excited that almost twice as many students will now be completing the process in a much shorter amount of time. (The students have been working very hard, of course, while their GED teacher is also learning how to be a better GED teacher.)

The Learning Center has also been a success so far. Folks are continuing to take advantage of the space for night GED classes, especially during the harvest season when students weren’t able to come during the day because of work opportunities.  Post-harvest time, students continue to come at night for extra tutoring and practice. In the spring, the space will be multi-purposed as I partner with local high school teachers for ACT prep and financial aid/college application information sessions.

A special thanks is in order for Church for the Highlands (Kyle Kelley and others) for the repair work they’ve done recently on the garage. Some rot has been taken care of, boards replaced, protection added, and a new coat of paint freshly applied!

Thanks, also, to the individuals and congregations who have donated funds for the Learning Center and for GED study materials (calculators, pencils, notebooks, and prep books). For as little as $120, a GED student can be fully sponsored, which includes the cost of the HiSET tests ($100) and a prep book ($20). Please email (mjboswell3@gmail.com) or call (252-363-8098) if you’re interested. This would make for a wonderful “Pay It Forward” type of Christmas gift. Blessings to you all in the Advent and Christmas seasons!

September '17 Update

Greetings from Lake Providence!

September has been a busy and a good month. Thanks to some generous donors, Together for Hope is expanding into a small building in downtown Lake Providence to open a Learning Center for a six-month trial period. 

This is a tremendous blessing for a few reasons. First, it will be a space out of which volunteers and I can teach evening and weekend GED and literacy classes. Currently, there's no place in East Carroll Parish for these services for students who need to attend classes in the evening. For as many students as I have attending and completing the GED prep class, I have an equal number of students who cannot attend because of work and family responsibilities which take them away during the day. In a night classes are needed, there are currently none available.

The second reason this is helpful is because it provides additional programming space for both Together for Hope and other community partners in the area. Currently, if I wanted to teach a financial literacy class or sponsor a parenting class, for instance, the only available space would be the Mission House. As one would expect, this can be uncomfortable for some people to attend a program in someone's living room. 

Other benefits to expanding into the facility is that it provides office space for Together for Hope and a more public face for the community to identify with the ministry. Many people in town know who  previous directors and I are, but not everyone is clear on what exactly Together for Hope does or works toward. This move could possibly make the ministry of Together for Hope much stronger and rooted in the community over the years to come. 

There are many large and small ways your congregation can help as this project continues to unfold. Please be in touch and look out for more updates! Thank you all for your prayers and continued support. 

Summer '17 Update

June and July have been busy, full months in Lake Providence. Three different church groups have come to learn about and volunteer in the community. The youth group from Church for the Highlands visited in June, helping paint a building that community members hope to make an operational community center in the future. The group also learned about the civil rights history of Northeastern Louisiana and concluded their trip with a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Woodland Baptist Church (Louisville, KY) visited for their fifth consecutive year in July and helped run a Reading Day Camp at Southside Elementary School. We focused on rising third grade students and provided one-on-one tutoring/learning sessions for the kids. Our goal was to further strengthen the reading skills of children at this important stage of their development. The week concluded with a cookout and an opportunity for the students and their families to spend time at the Mission House and with the Woodland volunteers. The week was also special in that some local students from the Art Club and the GED program were able to join in as volunteers and tutors, also.

The Gayton Kirk Presbyterian Church’s high school youth group (Richmond, Virginia) also came in July. This group helped with a variety of community projects, including a partnership with the Cemetery Association to help with beautification efforts in the historic Lake Providence Cemetery.  Later in the week, the group worked together with local artist, Leshawn Hardmon, to rehab an old community center. Leshawn, recent General Trass salutatorian, led the group in painting a new mural (see the above photo). The group capped off their week with a visit to the Grammy Museum in Cleveland, Mississippi, learning more about the rich music history of the Delta.

Additional students have completed their GED/HiSET over the summer, and others are increasingly getting closer.

Please continue to pray for our students in Lake Providence and for the upcoming Back to School Carnival! We look forward to continuing our partnership with the educators and children of Lake Providence and supporting their efforts to provide a high quality education for the young people of East Carroll Parish. All of your efforts are greatly appreciated!

April / May '17 Update

Greetings from Lake Providence!

Life in town has been bustling over the past few weeks as the school year ended and graduation ceremonies commenced.  Thankfully, the GED (HiSET) program will continue to move along throughout the summer. It’s my expectation that an additional two students will have completed their degree by next month when I sit to write another update. They each have one subtest left and are scheduled to take them within a month.

Of the students who have progressed to the point of taking the tests, all have completed at least two of the five portions. This is a major accomplishment for them, and their confidence only continues to grow. We’ll continue to celebrate with them and help them in their discernment process as they think about their career and educational options after receiving their degree. One young woman is already enrolled in a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) program beginning in June through the Louisiana Delta Community College of Lake Providence.

In late April, the economic/community development plan that I helped write for the town was accepted and approved by the town council. A few residents have been excited to work on a few of the projects in the plan, e.g., the development of a youth leadership program and registering Lake Providence as a Main Street community. These plans have come about as I’ve met with people in town who work with the Historical Society and other local leaders who are already actively working on community development related projects in town.

The summer is gearing up to be a busy time. Three church groups are coming into Lake Providence for a time of service-learning and community work in June and July. We’ll host a reading/literacy day camp in July and other groups will be involved in other service/educational related projects. I’ll also be attending the CBF General Assembly in June. At the beginning of August, we’ll host another effort to help get school supplies to children in Lake Providence. You can find more information about that effort in this newsletter.

Please continue to pray for the efforts of Together for Hope, and thank you for your contributions and support. Know that you are always welcome to come to the Northeastern part of the state to learn more about life in East Carroll Parish and to meet and work with the many people here who are striving to make their community a better place. Take care!

March '17 Update

Greetings from Lake Providence!

March has been a busy month for Together for Hope.  Through the HiSET/GED program, seven different students have begun the actual testing process to receive their high school equivalency diplomas. As of April 4th, our first student has completed all five sub-tests and is now a high school graduate. Additional students have passed up to three parts of the test and have their sights set on finishing by the end of the spring.

Additionally, a few students recently completed an application process for a jobs program with Workforce Louisiana. Through the partnership of TFH and Louisiana Delta Community College, these two students will now have access to work experience, resume building, income, job training, and scholarship funds to take college courses and certificate programs upon the successful completion of their HiSET. One student was beaming as she described her excitement over having her first job. She’s proud to be a role model for her daughter both with her educational attainments and her new career pathway.

Also, as of early April, I’ve worked with the steering committee of the Louisiana Development Ready Communities task force to complete the Economic Development Strategic Plan for Lake Providence. The plan, hopefully, will be reviewed and adopted by the town council in late April. In the plan, there are several goals that Together for Hope can help support, such as building a leadership development program, revitalizing the downtown, assisting with new business support/retention, and supporting the town’s efforts to establish a farmers’ market.

Partnerships with the local schools continue to go well, both with tutoring and the Art Club. Principal Jones of Southside Elementary recently invited me to serve on the School Improvement Committee. These discussions have created space to talk with administrators and teachers about the role Together for Hope plays in supporting public education in Lake Providence. We’ll continue to support teachers and students with school supplies, though all parties are interested in increasing our efficiency and methods for distributing the supplies. An additional, exciting idea will be to partner congregations with classrooms/grade levels at Southside, allowing greater chances for churches to get to know teachers and students throughout the year and direct their support in a more focused and helpful manner.

Finally, I send my appreciation to Woodland Baptist Church for sending financial support and resources for the HiSET program, and also to Church for the Highlands and their youth group’s service learning trip to Lake Providence in early March. The youth worked on two parks and were able to form relationships with local leaders and Lake Providence youth. Thanks for all of your help!

February '17 Update

Greetings from Lake Providence!

These warm winter months have brought some exciting developments. Five GED students are currently in the process of taking their GED tests - a months-long process. It’s a pleasure to announce that the first two students to take a portion of the test successfully passed the parts on which they were working. I’ve also worked to connect students with Workforce Louisiana, an agency which will help students find work while they complete their degrees.

It was a joy to preach and worship with the Church for the Highlands earlier in February. The church is bringing their youth to visit Lake Providence in early March and will join local leaders to do service projects in two of Lake Providence’s parks. Residents of the Newtown Neighborhood Association are excited to join in the workday and to continue building relationships with their CBF partners.

In town, TFH and other citizens are continuing to work with the mayor’s office on the development of a strategic plan with Louisiana Economic Development (LED). Meetings are being held over the span of several weeks in February and March to continue gathering community feedback and to draw up a list of goals and objectives. The plan will guide local business leaders, the city council, and community partners, like Together for Hope, as we discern what types of projects and work we hope to accomplish to help Lake Providence flourish.

Together for Hope - Louisiana, indirectly, will be greatly benefited by this work. We’ll be able to use our resources and networks to join with churches, the city, and business leaders to tackle certain projects and initiatives that emerge out of the strategic plan.  Our mission, in other words, is best served when we listen to and partner with the people of Lake Providence.

As always, groups are welcome to come to Lake Providence for service-learning and retreat opportunities. Be in touch to schedule a visit or to have me come visit your congregation. Also, be sure to like our page on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, and check out our updated website to keep up with what’s going on in Lake Providence.

January '17 Update

Greetings from Lake Providence!

The last few months have been eventful in East Carroll Parish. The community gathered together on multiple occasions for the Thanksgiving Service and the Community Choir’s Christmas program. Both events were lovely and made for a great way to usher in the holidays. TFH-LA also hosted a small Christmas party for the Art Club students at General Trass. The students were greatly appreciative to be able to share a meal together in the run up to exams and the Christmas break.

The GED course at Louisiana Delta Community College is picking up steam as word spreads through the community that this opportunity is available. The number of students with whom I’ve been able to work through this partnership has grown from five in the first week to almost twenty within the early weeks of January. Please continue to pray for these women and men as they work very hard and study to earn their degree.  

Also, Louisiana Economic Development (LED) has launched an initiative in the Northeastern Louisiana parishes to help them become “Louisiana Development Ready Communities.” I’m working with other community members through the mayor’s office to complete a strategic plan that will earn the town of Lake Providence this designation through LED. The goal is to develop the plan so as to be purposeful about the many facets that contribute to the health and flourishing of the Lake Providence community.

Lastly, it was a joy to attend the Martin Luther King, Jr., service at Progressive Chapel Baptist Church on January 16. Progressive Chapel graciously worked with TFH-LA and Woodland Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky, over the summer, letting us use their facilities for the day camp hosted by Woodland. The community listened to guest choirs, a guest speaker, and many different youth representatives.

Please continue to pray for the mission and ministries of the many different leaders and agencies in Lake Providence and East Carroll Parish, including our own. Obstacles and challenges are present, but there continues to be a willingness of spirit to work hard and remain dedicated to loving our neighbors and lifting up one another.  

November '16 Update

Greetings from Lake Providence! Things continue to go well with the ministry and mission here in East Carroll Parish. I'm writing on the eve of our upcoming Community Thanksgiving Service. It's great to see people of faith working together across racial and denominational lines for this time of worship. I'll be representing TFH-LA during the service that evening along with other ministers and youth from the Southern Baptist, Missionary Baptist, and Catholic churches.

The Art Club at General Trass High School has received recently a small grant which should enable us to take the students to visit a few art galleries in Vicksburg. Our faculty representative/partner at the high school is currently working on pulling this trip together for the spring. 

Our tutoring efforts continue to go well at Southside Elementary. We've maintained and even added to the number of our volunteers, including a new partnership with Capital One that allows their employees to take time off during their work day to study with these younger students.

On a similar note, I'm very excited to share that I've been approved to teach a GED course at the local community college in Lake Providence. After a former teacher relocated many months ago, no opportunities were available for students to achieve their high school equivalency degree. This will be a wonderful chance both to help these adults with their education/job prospects and to forge new relationships with Louisiana Delta Community College and other affiliated agencies. 

Please continue to pray for the parish and town leadership, the residents, and all those who are working to foster the bright light of Christ in this community. If your Sunday School class or congregation would like to visit Lake Providence or have me speak at your church, please be in touch. 

September '16 Update

Greetings from Lake Providence!

I’m happy to write that things have been going well since beginning in this new call on September 1. Shortly after arriving in Lake Providence, the annual gathering of Together for Hope practitioners occurred in Decatur, GA. It was a wonderful gift to begin my time by meeting others who are doing work with TFH in other locations and to meet other staff members at CBF Global.

After returning to Lake Providence, I was greeted by a few local community leaders who graciously helped me get plugged into some of the work currently being done in town. A few people across vocational backgrounds were gathering to discuss ways to increase access to mental health care for residents. Some of the challenges that the town faces include transportation, home visits, and bed space in the local clinic. There was good energy in the meeting as the group identified a few short-time and long-term goals.

At a recent city council meeting, we learned that a local person will be opening another restaurant in the space that used to be Jehovah Java. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be served, leaving community members excited that there will once again be available a “coffee shop” type of space. On a similar note, the community has greatly celebrated the re-opening (after a fire) of The Dream Eatery (formerly “My Dream Eatery”). The food is absolutely delicious and the new space looks wonderful. Sadly, in other news, the local hardware store is closing after one hundred years of service to East Carrol Parish. Please be in prayer for the individuals who are looking for work as a result.

Also, I was invited to join a tutoring program at Southside Elementary School, which works with 3rd graders on their reading skills. This is a great way for Together for Hope to continue its relationship with this school, and others, in addition to the annual Bags of Hope project.

Please know that I am available to speak to your church, a missions committee, or to preach. Our work in Lake Providence is a result of your generosity and continued support. God’s spirit certainly continues to be on the move in this town, and it’s a privilege to join in the good work that is being done.