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CHURCHES SAY `AMEN’ TO HELPING SCHOOLCHILDREN

SHARE CHURCHES SAY `AMEN’ TO HELPING SCHOOLCHILDREN

The second day of school was hectic enough for Washington Elementary School Principal Toni Nale before the sad-faced 12-year-old in the Chicago Bulls T-shirt showed up in her office.

On the verge of tears, he begged Nale to let him return to her school, not the one he transferred to after his mother moved across town this summer. At Washington, he had begun turning away from the lure of the streets, and the prospect of going to a new school was earthshaking.The Rev. Eugene Green arrived just after Nale had called the boy's probation officer to take the child back to the school he had skipped.

It was the first day of the One Church, One School project in Decatur, a plan to have local churches "adopt" a public school and provide volunteers to help children. The Rev. Green was there to work as a mentor and role model for students like the boy in the Bulls shirt.

"How would you like to know that you have someone in your corner?" the Rev. Green asked in a quiet voice as Nale held the boy's quivering arm. "How would you like to have someone who cares about you, to talk about your problems? Would you let me be that person?"

The boy was skeptical. "I dunno," he said in a barely audible quaver as he stared at his hands.

"You don't know. That's understandable, because you don't know me. You don't know where I'm coming from," the Rev. Green said. "So let me tell you a little bit about myself."

The Rev. Green talked about growing up in foster care, about getting help from others and dedicating himself to giving that help back.

The minister heard - mostly from Nale and the probation officer - about the boy's problems with fighting, stealing and running the streets.

Eventually, the boy accepted the Rev. Green's offer. They shook hands before the boy, and his probation officer left for the new school.

"There's no way I'm going to let a young person end up on a slab in the morgue because of a lack of education," the Rev. Green had said earlier, while explaining his plans.

The Rev. Green, pastor of the Trinity Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, a block from Washington Elementary, organized the One Church, One School program in Decatur. The project is modeled after similar programs in Chicago and Gary, Ind., started by the Rev. Henry Williamson, former director of the civil rights group Operation PUSH.

The Rev. Green's church has adopted Washington Elementary and the nearby Johns Hill Magnet School, which offers enhanced education, including French, music and computer science instruction for students through eighth grade. Vol-un-teers will provide classroom help for teachers and tutoring services for students, such as helping non-English-speaking students with language skills.

The Rev. Green already has lined up support from public officials, including Decatur school Superintendent Kenneth Arndt and Mayor Terry Howley. Teachers and principals also are enthusiastic.

"We don't get the parental involvement that we desperately need," said Nale, whose inner-city school has 541 students, about 85 percent of them poor enough to qualify for free lunches. "We need people who can give to kids, and that's what I see One Church, One School doing."