by Catelynne Lewis
Nichole Echols, a mom of five who resides in South Allison, raves about the support she has received from “The Shamrock” over the years. Her son, Anthony – a natural homebody – currently attends the program and routinely jumps out of the family car from school to bounce his way over to the Bethesda Community Center. Though he is an 8th grader attending St Theresa’s in Camp Hill, he says that he has gathered a tight-knit community of friends and mentors just around the corner (a convenience that Anthony’s mother is very thankful for). An avid PlayStation gamer whose natural habitat is more reclusive, Anthony has shed his cocoon to actively engage in one of his favorite places in the world. Anthony makes sure to ride his bike over every time the doors to the Shamrock are open, and you can especially count on seeing Anthony’s toothy grin if you visit on a Thursday night.
His mother, Nichole, whole-heartedly believes that students need a break from everyday life just as much as adults need their vacation days. For that reason, she loves the annual Retreat’ where urban kids who would not normally have the opportunity to go camping or on wilderness expeditions are able to experience “roughing it” for a few days. “It’s definitely a hit among the community. They love it out there!”
While Anthony is sure to mention that he plays plenty of basketball and chills with his friends, he also remarks that Jesus is always in their discussions. “Last month’s theme was love, and this month we’ve been talking about new life in Jesus.” When asked what tine phrase “neve life in Jesus” means to him, Anthony quickly shot; back that “if you don’t know about Jesus and find out, it can really change your life.”
Nichole mentions that the Community Center has been a staple of her children’s growing up for the past sixteen years of their family living in Allison. In fact, she mentions a time that she received free coats for her children one year (prior to COVID-19) and loves that they inquire about the physical needs/health of their participants. “Everybody knows everybody, and I have always felt safe knowing that my children are in a safe place with people who love them.” Bethesda Mission has been a fixture that the family could lean on in times of transition and need, sending three of her five; children through the program! She says “not to worry” though, her youngest one will be coming soon to march the path his older sib lings have paved before him.
Nichole is not only appreciative of the physical safety exhibited at the Bethesda Community Center, but also the emotional support system for growing young people, particularly young men. “Anthony’s dad is not at home, so to have strong, African American role models in his life is such a good thing.” Nichole reminisces about how Anthony’s favorite companion in leadership has been Mr. Lloyd, a “godsend” to Anthony as a confidante and mentor. The Community Center cares for her children’s physical well-being, emotional and mental health, and dedication to all scholastic ventures: a trifecta of reassurance for Nichole that her community is there for her and her family.
“Help Needed” in Harrisburg
The students who attend our prog rams are taught the importance of education and the vitality of learning in their lives. However, the rest of Harrisburg youth are not exposed to the message as blatantly. Niche.com (the largest online database to accurately compare school district information and statistics for prospective parents, families, and researchers) harshly grades Harrisburg City with a disappointing “C minus“, the ranking indicated through Niche’s averaging various categories (including but not limited to: academics, teachers, clubs & activities, resources & facilities, college prep, etc.). Data from this highly regarded site shows that academics are the culprit which brings the Harrisburg District’s grade down, with a measly 12% of students that are “at least proficient in math, and 23% in reading.” Another online resource, Greatachoolsr.org stays that 83% of the elementary schools in the Harrisburg School District score below average in academics (five of the six). These statistics, however, are no match for the Community Center’s track record of recovery and life renewal.
What Are We Doing About It?
Young students in the 2nd -8th grade range are most in danger of perpetuating the cycle of young people being pumped out of our education system with a below-average education as they wander the streets that cross at loneliness and contusion. We decided in the 90s that something needed to be done, and our little Shamrock Station has evolved into our Center today.
Takeover 717 (Our Youth Program Philosophy) exists to develop meaningful relationships with children, teens, and families in the Harrisburg area and guide them into a relationship with Jesus Christ to that they can be positive influences in their homes, schools, and communities. The team at Bethesda’s Community Center is proud of the important role they play in mentoring and equipping Harrisburg’s rising generation.
Confused about where the Community Center’s phrase “Takeover 717″ comes from’? The Takeover is our programming based on 1 Peter 1:18:
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
At the Community Center, we believe there is a culture and a way of life that has been handed down to the families in this community that needs to be “taken over”. That Takeover needs to take place intrinsically, and is the foundation of everything the Community Center does. Bethesda’s After-School Program serves youth ages 7-18 who live in the surrounding neighborhood. A typical week consists of spiritual development,
creative learning classes, homework help, arts and crafts, recreation, snacks, and fun. Our “Takeover” strategy is split into three: Dream (2nd-4th grades), Inspire (5th-8th grades), and Reach (9th-12th grades).
Our new Community Center that will replace the Shamrock Station will focus on the two former age groups, the best time to prepare and “fireproof” our future generations. Here is a breakdown of both programs geared toward our younger students, taken directly from the Takeover 717 curriculum:
Dream (2nd-5th grades)
The Dream program will help students “dream” about their future, using creativity to foster critical,
outside-of-the-box thinking for students that would otherwise not have the resources to experience.
• be given the opportunity to be discipled in the Christian faith
• develop creativity
• improve in math and reading
• receive homework help
Inspire (6th-8th grades)
Keeping the momentum from our Dream program, students continue to the next stage in the process. Students are then encouraged to look to “inspire”
students to start working toward their future.
Students will: be discipled in the Christian faith
• develop 7 C’s of Success (creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, confidence, character, care)
• receive homework help
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