DAVIDSON – Santiago Navia, a Davidson College freshman from Colombia, wanted the opportunity to give of himself and escape the college bubble where it's easy to get sucked into introspection.

This semester he will tutor children via The Ada Jenkins Center's LEARN Works program. He'll assist students from JV Washam Elementary School in building their literacy and math skills.

Navia joined a group of volunteers Jan. 21 at an orientation session.

“You always hear at Davidson that people are waiting for the time to do something. But the time never comes,” he said. “I don't want to say I'm waiting until I have time. I could make the few hours a week instead of watching TV.”

The program serves children from Davidson, Cornelius and JV Washam elementary schools, as well as Bailey Middle, Volunteer Coordinator Leslie Wilson said.  

Teachers and principals refer students to the program if they're struggling in school and need some extra support. These kids generally encounter more obstacles in meeting their academic goals, such as poverty, minority status, language barriers or living in a single-parent household.

"We're like their trampoline," LEARN Works Director Diane Means said. "We're not jumping for you, but we're providing a little bit of the spring."

In the 2012-13 school year, 90 percent of the 107 children receiving tutoring each afternoon qualified for the federal free or reduced lunch program.

At the end of the 2011-12 school year, 100 percent of kids helped by LEARN Works were promoted to the next grade.

Students typically spend 70 minutes of a two-hour visit on academics. There's also some time for fun thrown into the mix.  

A variety of clubs have sprung up at Ada Jenkins over the years, focusing on everything from cooking to karate.

"It's really about providing opportunities that the kids might not have access to," Wilson said.

There's a $50 fee per year per child to participate in LEARN Works, but no child is turned away if parents can't pay. Meanwhile, it costs the center an average of $2,860 a year per child enrolled in the program. An hour of each volunteer's time is worth about $21 to the nonprofit's primary supporters, Means said.

One of those primary backers is United Way of Central Carolinas, which offered LEARN Works $51,246 in 2013.

And they put that money to good use.  

Wilson said the program's grown from aiding about 60 kids when she started six years ago to reaching 112 per school year today.

"I want to teach the kids that they need to read and learn their math so that they can do the things that they're interested in and become who they want to be," she said.


Want to help? Start the volunteer process by visiting www.adajenkins.org/education/learnworks.cfm/.