Apr 052013

Youth talent show April 19 at Embrace Church

By Taylor Riley

1, 2, 3… Jump!

I walk past a group of enthusiastic jump-roping children as I search for John and Laura Gallaher.

There are at least 20 kids outside North Limestone’s Embrace United Methodist Church around four p.m. this particular Friday. If I didn’t know any better, I would think these kids were at recess.

School is over for the day, though, and the kids are involved in an after-school program.

I walk inside the church and spot John and Laura rounding up a couple kids for snack time in the basement home of Common Good, the north Lexington non-profit the Gallahers opened last year.

John, a former youth pastor, and Laura, a former social worker, have always been involved in their community. Based on their jobs, they knew that helping kids in their neighborhood was what they were meant to do. “The work we did in church was good, but it fell short in some ways,” John said. “We were helping to meet the spiritual needs of the community, but there were a lot of other needs.”

This particular part of town is home to many refugee and immigrant families who are rebuilding their lives in a foreign place. The Gallahers were very familiar with the youth of the community from their former careers, and they knew that they wanted to invest long-term in helping adolescents excel in their lives. They started Common Good in 2011 to help local kids improve socially and academically, giving them a “place to belong” in a supervised environment.

Every Monday through Thursday during the school year, 50 kids, 40 mentors, and two staff members meet to improve the students’ academic, physical, and spiritual life.

Three classrooms are crowded with kids studying multiplication tables, reading chapter books, and playing pool. The students are divided into kindergarten through second grade, third through fifth grade, and middle and high school children.

With great love

Black and white pictures of John and Laura with the kids clad in big smiles line the hallways. They remind me of family portraits. Common Good definitely has a family feel.

“We are hardcore about the consistency aspect,” John said. “The best thing to have is consistency. We want Common Good to be a stable place. That’s what makes it special—the relationships.”

The Gallahers’ goal for the program is simple: to give opportunities to the kids in their community. “We want to empower students, whatever that means to each student,” Laura said. “We want to help them to realize their full potential.”

The middle and high school classroom contains a wall of dreams, which poses the question: “What will your future be like?” Diverse answers are posted: going to college, traveling the world, owning a house, having money and a good job, getting straight A’s.

“It’s not an issue of not dreaming,” Laura said. “It’s more like, what is your dream? How are you going to get there? These kids face a lot of obstacles. We want to teach them wise decision-making when it comes to their future.”

John and Laura want to expose the kids to as many life experiences as possible.

Each day, the students come straight to the church after school for an hour of homework time and lessons in music, art, cooking, and more.

John and Laura’s long-term vision for the program is to cultivate a new generation of leaders. “There are strengths in this community, and we want to invest in the good things,“ Laura said. “We want to build on the kids’ strengths and encourage growth.”

Another opportunity for growth is Common Good’s summer program. Free from homework constraints, kids can spend the day visiting colleges and socializing with other kids. “With Common Good, kids are safe, challenged, and engaged,” Laura said.

Childcare services are often out of reach for parents in this community. Common Good charges an affordable $10 per school year for each kid involved. Funding for the program comes from individual donations. “We can’t do it alone; people have stepped up,” Laura said.

The program has flourished in the past year, but John and Laura have no inclination to expand to other communities. “We want the highest quality program possible,“ John said. “The program is rooted here; we are invested in the community. We are confirmed every day that we are doing something good.”

“I’ve always thought that Mother Teresa’s quote best described what we are doing with the program: ‘We can do no great things, only small things with great love,’” Laura added.

Common Good will host a community talent show fundraiser April 19, at 7:30 p.m., at Embrace Church, Epworth Campus. For more information on the non-profit and talent show, visit CommonGoodLex.org.

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