(Photo: Elevation Church/Elizabeth Danko)
More than 1,600 members of Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C., responded to the plea from their pastor, Steven Furtick, to become mentors for the youth in their communities. Troubling statistics that include showing a high rate of Charlotte-area students who do not graduate from high school prompted the church's initiative.
"I know the importance of mentoring. My mother connected me with a mentor when I was a child to encourage me after the tragic loss of my father. She knew I would need someone to encourage me when so many others said I would never go anywhere, or amount to anything," said Charlotte's Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon, who shared his support for the "M1 Initiative" in a recent video shown to the more than 12,000 in attendance at seven Elevation Church locations.
Furtick made the initiative announcement two weeks ago with plans to connect 1,000 mentors to serve and empower 1,000 children for one year in Charlotte area schools. More than 1,600 responded, according to Jamie Waldron, who is the church's director of outreach programs.
"I am absolutely in love with our church. To see that the people of our church step up and move toward an issue rather than say, 'You know what, that's too bad, those people could use some help' is amazing," Waldron told The Christian Post. She explained that one of the most troubling education statistics for the Charlotte area was that 25 percent of the students do not graduate from high school. Furtick and his church aim to lower the percentage.
The church is now training the volunteers who pledged to serve for one year in the areas of academics and life issues. Elevation is partnering with 14 local organizations to equip, train, and connect mentors to students. A Child's Place, Right Moves for Youth, Communities in Schools Mecklenburg and Gaston Counties, Children's Attention Home (Rock Hill), and York County Schools are among the partner organizations.
"We have always said we want to be a blessing to our city and support our leaders with a volunteer force they can count on," said Furtick. He had read about the critical need for mentors in the Charlotte area and said he believed his church could meet that need.
Waldron said that witnessing how people that were once in need of a mentor themselves are now mentoring is what has impressed her most.
"The stories that have come out of this have been amazing. Hearing stories about people that had some hard times in their youth and were helped by someone coming alongside them are now using their experience to help others," she said.
During Furtick's recent release of his book, Greater, church volunteers filled more than 2,200 book bags filled with school supplies, one bag for every book sold. Students throughout the U.S. are receiving the bags. Hundreds more are being sent to the gulf region in the wake of Hurricane Isaac.
Last April, Elevation succeeded in serving more than 102,000 hours and giving more than $1,038,000 to nonprofits in Charlotte in what was called the Orange Initiative.
"I know our city is better off because of Elevation Church. This initiative sets the bar for the rest of the community and I am grateful for your vision and commitment to our city," said Mayor Anthony Foxx in discussing the year-long volunteer effort.