“For me, it is just a huge celebration, [a] blessing,” Dudley said, about the ministry celebrating 10 years. “I can’t tell you the joy I feel every day. When these children come in, we develop such a bond. Every day when they come in off the bus, they run in as if they haven’t seen us in weeks and hug us. It’s really like a big family because we only have 12 children in a class with two teachers. So I think we’re able to really talk with the children more one-on-one, get to know them better. For me as the director, all 132 children here are my children. [That] is the way I feel.
“Celebrating 10 years, we are seeing — this past May we had eight of our original second graders that graduated high school this year and that is just an outstanding statistic. And it gives me such pride to know that we helped them get off to the right start. In many cases, they followed the program all the way through their school years and we were able to help them reach their accomplishments. ... It’s so exciting to see the [achievements] they’re making, to see what good, good kids and people they’re growing into. It’s like a parent who has a dream for their own child. I feel that way about the children that came through here. Seeing them accomplish their goals is just a huge blessing for me.”
Opening Jan. 14, 2002, Hands of Christ at FPC was an extension of the existing program at Douglas Street United Methodist Church, which presently serves fourth through 12th graders.
“Our church was looking for another opportunity to serve in the community,” Dudley said. “They did some research about the needs of the community and what came out of that research was that children and education were two primary areas of concern for the Cartersville city area, Bartow County area. We very quickly realized we have all of these education classrooms set up for our preschool program, which is only used during the morning hours — what if we served young children during the afternoon and were able to completely utilize the space we already had?
“So that’s how the idea and the birth of the program came about. This committee that was trying to research community ministries, then visited the Douglas Street program and we were well-received by Angela [Rivers] as far as being able to take in the [children’s] younger siblings. ... So it was a natural fit.”
In the past 10 years, the Hands of Christ’s FPC offering has experienced growth in various areas, with its staff increasing from four to 33 people and student body climbing from 28 to 132 children, 95 percent of whom are Hispanic.
Citing their students’ achievements, Dudley said, “The final report cards of the 2011-2012 academic year revealed that 96 percent of our kindergarteners made A’s and B’s in reading and math; 95 percent of the first graders made A’s and B’s in reading and math; an astounding 99 percent of the second graders made these scores in reading and math; and 76 percent of the third graders performed this well in reading while 87 percent scored this well in math.
“Since 2003, the Hands of Christ Program at FPC has held the highest percentage of students meeting or exceeding the state standards on the mandated CRCT than any other tutorial program in the Cartersville area. Last year 91 percent of our students met or exceeded the standards in reading, while 94 percent met or exceeded in math.”
For more information about the Hands of Christ Program at FPC, call 770-382-4403.