South Memphis comes on gradually as you drive. Broken glass here, a boarded up house there. It’s a neighborhood marred by evidence of neglect, that no one cares: chipped paint, litter, and overgrown weeds.
And then you come across Knowledge Quest– there are murals, a church, a well-tended garden, a colorful playground, and what seems like hundreds of kids. You can tell that people care here. Knowledge Quest’s main site is off Walker Street, and there is so much need that they have expanded to two additional locations. There are three elementary schools full of children who need help, and rather than going home to empty houses and blaring televisions, they get after-school care at Knowledge Quest.
The guiding principle behind Knowledge Quest is that kids deserve the chance to play and interact in a safe environment where no one forces them to sit still. Each kid gets a substantial snack because the staff know that this is the only dinner some of the kids will have. Then the kids get to work on fun projects. Some work in the garden and learn about where food comes from, some play games in the gym, and some get help with their homework.
I helped with homework at one of the new locations, a beautiful building constructed during the depression as a works progress administration project. The class was quite full, and as soon as the students saw that I was there to help with homework, they all seemed to need special attention.
My favorite moment was with a little lady named Christen who was struggling with simple algebra, but who wouldn’t be at age 7? After we talked it over, she absolutely knew what to do and finished her whole worksheet without a hitch. She then pointed out that the little boy sitting next to her was copying off her. Christen seemed upset, but I explained that the best way to stop him from copying was to teach him how to do it too. I listened with delight as she explained how to do each and every problem to him, and led him to the right conclusion on every blank. She really had learned it, and her neighbor was well on his way.
The thing that struck me most about Knowledge Quest is the overwhelming need for more volunteers. The kids don’t just need help with their homework; they need someone to notice their talents and encourage them. Just because they live in South Memphis doesn’t mean these kids should be forgotten; they need help to realize their true potential like any other child in Memphis.
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