There is a commotion at the entrance to the Bethlehem Center in Chattanooga as Rachel DeVore, Director of Education, screams with delight and runs toward 2 boys, wrapping them up in a big hug. After a few minutes chatting with the boys, she slips away, explaining, “Those two boys are my heart and soul, and they moved to Knoxville, and just now popped in the door to say hello. I can’t even tell you how much I love them.”
Talking to Rachel you quickly realize that she loves every student at “The Beth” just as much as those two boys, always referring to them as “my kids.” As school buses pull to the front of the building located in the heart of South Chattanooga, children come hurrying into the Center, excitedly headed to after school activities. They’ll spend the next several hours there playing, doing homework and learning enrichment, snacking, and socializing.
The after school program, called the Read to Lead Academy, currently serves 75 kids in kindergarten through 8th grade, giving children a safe haven from 3pm to 6:30pm, along with educational and loving support programs that reflect their mission: “We are God’s people empowering inner-city youth and families to lead responsible lives by providing discipleship, education, and leadership development.” The children who participate consider The Beth their home away from home.
In the summer, The Bethlehem Center hosts Jump Start Camp for 6 weeks from 8am-3pm. One hundred fifty children participate in this enriching program that includes adventures to places like the Challenger Center and the Aquarium in Chattanooga – but also to museums, science centers and parks across the state, enhancing their learning experiences.
Gloria DuBose, Director of Community Outreach at the Beth works to connect neighborhood families to resources. “While Rachel works with the babies and does everything she can do to help them grow, we know that it’s important to impact the entire family.” Gloria offers a steady stream of adult programming – everything from Bingo to Bible Studies, to their new economic empowerment class which prepares people to make responsible financial decisions.
“Anybody who walks through the doors of The Bethlehem Center who needs any kind of social services – we’re going to deliver that,” Gloria says. That may include helping with resumes and job skills, and/or providing referrals for rent or utility assistance.
Community outreach is evident through the well-stocked Food Pantry, a Community Garden, and an events calendar which including trainings, voter registration, health fairs, family events, movie nights, special holiday celebrations – all designed to connect and build community spirit.
Reginald Smith, Executive Director, is delighted to give tours of the facilities. The Beth has a state of the art computer lab for use by children and adults in the community. A gym with new floors is always active with children shooting hoops, and they look forward to adding a stage soon. “Letting children develop into the people God intended them to be. That is our ultimate mission here at the Bethlehem Center,” Smith says.
The Bethlehem Center has served Chattanooga since 1920. This year they celebrate 100 years of developing the faith, education, and character of every person who walks through their doors.
Learn more about The Bethlehem center at their website: https://www.thebeth.org/www