The school bus’ rumbling arrival at Newbern United Methodist Church might as well have come from its hungry passengers.
As always, snacks would be the first priority for NewHarts, a free after-school program in Newbern and Hartsville that gives students a place to unwind, to do homework and to learn about God.
“I would say this was God’s idea,” said Angie Greene, a former high school math teacher who helped start the program with Charisse Garwood. “We saw a need and are trying to fill it in simple ways.”
NewHarts, which began the second week of the new school year, is derived from the names Newbern and Hartsville but also alludes to the Christian morals and Bible verses emphasized.
Newbern United Methodist Church hosts the program Tuesdays and Thursdays. Hartsville United Methodist Church hosts it Mondays and Wednesdays. Both are from 3 to 5:30 p.m. and have different students and adult leaders.
Greene’s husband, Carl, is pastor over both churches, which gave Greene access to the church facilities to save money.
A bus carrying Clifty Creek Elementary School children stops in front of the Newbern church after school each day to let off program participants, which number from four to six. Clifty Creek, a Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. facility, serves the Newbern community.
Parents need to provide transportation for their children to take part in the program at Hartsville, which has four or five daily participants, Greene said. Hope Elementary School, a Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. school, serves Hartsville.
But Greene emphasized the program is open to children of any age. She said organizers knew participation would be sparse the first year. They hope word of mouth will spread the word so far more parents discover what the program offers.
Each day starts with a snack and Bible lesson, followed by physical activity, homework, another snack and a craft. The goal is to help students build life skills and community cohesiveness while helping parents raise well-rounded, spiritually grounded, educated children.
Fifth-grader Tasha Knight, sixth-graders Nathan Pedigo and Annie Hutchison, and seventh-grader Joey Denney were the first students to arrive on a Thursday at the Newbern church.
The adults in the room served them pizza and grapes on paper plates and lemonade to wash it all down. The children talked among themselves until Greene asked them one at a time to share the best and worst things that happened that day.
Pedigo said the best thing is that he planned to do all of his homework that day. The bad news was that he didn’t get it all done the day before.
Denney said the best thing that happened to him was that he did a great job on a math test. He couldn’t think of anything bad.
Greene transitioned from that to blinding the students one at a time and having them pluck an identified item out of a bag. Each student was asked to feel his item and perhaps try to identify its color. Greene said the point was to help the children appreciate their senses and understand that they all are important gifts from God.
Rain forced the adults to hold its activity indoors. They had the students take part in a triathlon, which consisted of a beanbag toss, table tennis and a hit-the-target popper game.
Greene said the program requires spending money on games and crafts but little else, at least at the Newbern church, where students have little need yet for electronic tools.
She said the Hawcreek Flat-Rock Endowment gave an $1,800 grant to the Hartsville church, which used it to buy laptop computers and printers to let students use online resources.
“Sometimes, parents need help,” Greene said. “We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has donated or contributed time, money or resources to help the young people of our communities.”