Baptist church opens doors to adult ed

Published 6:24 am Wednesday, October 12, 2016

At 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon, there are half a dozen cars parked out front of Bogue Chitto Baptist Church.

It is an unusual time to go to a Baptist church, perhaps, but the people gathered inside didn’t come for a sermon. Rather, they sit, laptops open, ready for computer lessons.

Earlier this year the Bogue Chitto Baptist Church partnered with the Washington Parish Adult Education program to begin offering a variety of classes on the weekends and evenings for anyone in the community. Linda Fortenberry, the co-coordinator of the program, is a retired teacher and said from her perspective offering courses is a natural fit for her church.

“It’s been a blessing for me to do this because I miss teaching,” she said.

Fortenberry explained that her church first offered to help tutor Mt. Hermon school children.

“We have 30 kids who are coming for tutoring and that’s kindergarten through 12th grade,” she said. Then, the church decided it could offer adults help, too.

“This was in the plans for over a year and it finally came into fruition this year,” she said. “Our church is small but we have a lot of educated people. Some are teachers previously and are retired; some are current teachers.”

So far, the church has offered a workforce readiness course, which Fortenberry said was very popular. Currently the church is offering the computer course in addition to a health literacy course on Monday, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“Anybody from high school seniors on up can attend,” she said.

She said a financial literacy course is planned for next spring, as well. In addition, the church also offers a tutoring program for area students.

Fortenberry said she is open to any idea for a course, and if there’s a need, she will try to offer it.

“We wanted to get our feet wet with these,” she said. “I’m an educator, in English, so I’ve written lots of curriculum. So long as they tell me what they want. It can be jelly making, quilting … it can be anything we see a need for that people have an interest for in this area … It’s just a nice way of reaching out and pulling people out of these woods.”

It’s also an effort to give people an opportunity to better their lives. Fortenberry said the church has several mission groups, one of which is a jail ministry group, and they came up with the adult education idea after meeting inmates who couldn’t hold down jobs or lacked other skills.

“What can we do in this poverty-stricken area to keep more people out of jail,” Fortenberry wondered. “In the first nine months (of going to the jail), I saw 33 of my former students incarcerated and that hurt. I stopped counting after that.”

Fortenberry said they were in jail for all kinds of reasons, but generally all the inmates shared something — hopelessness.

The way to break that, she figured, was to offer lifestyle changes.

“It’s breaking cycles,” Fortenberry said. “Its breaking cycles of poverty and abuse, especially with these ladies.”

Fortenberry said her church has already made a difference in the life of one young woman. Fortenberry said she was taking the enrollment paperwork into Penny Moses’ office at the parish’s Adult Education building in Franklinton. She had signed up a former student, a high school drop out, and she asked Moses what they could do to get the girl in college.

“There was this one young lady I’d taught for three years, in the eighth, ninth and 10th grades and she came from high, high poverty but she was a dual enrollment student and made the honor roll,” Fortenberry said. “But she got herself pregnant her senior year dropped out and saw no way for college, so I invited her here for the first course.”

Fortenberry said Moses found financial aid for the woman, and she is now enrolled at Southeastern and will begin college in January.

“I’m thankful that we have a church that is attempting to do this,” Fortenberry said.

Church member Russell Kirkland agreed, and he pointed out the ultimate goal for the church is to teach not only skill, but better living through faith.

“It’s an instrument to bring people to know Christ and that’s already happening. We’re seeing some come to know Christ,” he said. “There’s a difference between doing something for humane reasons and for doing something for holy reasons. The holy thing is to better their life by showing them how to lead a life like Christ.”

Fortenberry said if any other churches would like to begin their own adult education courses, they may call Moses at 985-839-7798, or can call 985-877-4484 to sign up for a course.