Volunteer tutors come from several churches, though most are from Grosse Ile Presbyterian Church. Activities include homework, reading, playing a game or doing a puzzle, having a healthy snack and, thanks to Jim Parker, retired vocal music teacher and adult choir director at Grosse Ile, singing. The children gather around the piano in their activity area to sing songs in both Spanish and English. This is the only music they have, since music was cut from the school’s curriculum.
The tutoring program first started in 1990, when MarySue Sickafus, a member of Grosse Ile Presbyterian, and Barbara Smith, a member of Southfield Presbyterian, along with fellow Presbyterian Grace Colter, answered a call from Southwest Presbyterian to do outreach in this Spanish-speaking section of Detroit. The children, especially, needed support since they came to church with limited ability in English and didn’t understand their Sunday school lessons. That tutoring program continued until 2007 when Southwest Presbyterian was sold.
In 2012, Anita Teresko, a lay pastor who felt a calling to minister to children, and MarySue contacted the principal of Harms Elementary to again offer tutoring to students needing a boost in school work. Harms Elementary is just down the street from the former Southwest Presbyterian. For three years, teachers walked children from their school to Communidad Los del Camino, the community center that occupied the former Southwest Presbyterian. In 2015, when the building was sold again, this time to a Lutheran congregation, tutors moved the program to the children’s school. The school is celebrating its 100th year on June 3. The tutor group and children are singing a song in Spanish and English during the celebration, and planting a tree in memory of Fred A. Harms, for whom the school is named.
During the group’s 2015 Christmas party, children finished homework, sang carols and opened gifts from their tutors. Each was also given a brand-new winter coat by a teen member of the youth group at Grosse Ile Presbyterian whose service project was to raise the money to buy coats for the children. The children wore their new coats during the party and posed for photos with happy grins on their faces. Several were overheard saying, “I love my coat!”
Karen White, principal of Harms School at the time, wrote in gratitude: “Staff, students and parents greatly appreciate all the efforts and very generous gifts of the youth ministry. Your donation plays an important role in keeping kids in school, healthy and happy, knowing that people care about them.” Anita Teresko says, “Thank you, Grosse Ile Presbyterian and tutors, for making a difference in a child’s life.”