NEW YORK CITY
Each youth filling the cultural hall of the Church's meetinghouse in Harlem has his or her own story.
Christian Chabert, 14, wants to play in the NBA, but if that doesn't work out he will settle for being "a meteorologist or an attorney."
Clever Clark, 7, just learned to read.
And Daisy Sorcia, 14, doesn't mind doing homework, but prefers to have fun.
Each has gained something from the Church's Hotdogs and Homework program, held on Tuesday nights in Harlem.
Hotdogs and Homework started five years ago when Jessica Allred, then a young single adult school teacher, saw a need to help young people in the community. With the help of other young single adults and the support of the local stake, she began offering weekly study-helps to Latter-day Saint youth in Harlem. The program grew and, two years later, when Sister Allred left New York, Kristin Robinson of the Morningside Heights Ward, New York New York Stake, began coordinating the program.
Youth come to the Harlem meetinghouse every Tuesday and work with the same tutor. They eat dinner — although it is usually pizza, not hotdogs — and do homework. "There is a lot of fostering of relationships," said Sister Robinson, noting that "people come from all over the city to do this."
Kimberly Chabert, 17, has been participating in the program since she was 13 years old. "When I first started I had a lot of problems with math homework and solving things I couldn't do on my own," she said.
Now, she says, she meets her mentor, Laura Ostler, on Tuesday nights "but whenever I want and have questions I can call her."
"Not only do we do homework," Kimberly said, "she is teaching me how to play the piano too."
Kimberly's younger brothers also participate. Erick Chabert has been coming for three years and improved his reading skills through the program. And Christian has been meeting with his mentor, Brigham Barnes of the Union Square 1st Ward, New York New York Stake, for two years. Christian comes early each week to set up the tables. The pair talk about Christian's dreams of playing basketball.
"I think the biggest thing here is that they have people to be accountable to and people to help them," said Sister Robinson. "It has been a huge success. Because of the program kids have learned to read, graduated from high school and gone to college."
Mentors help the youth with homework or other needs. Two young women, for example, took a year off after they finished high school and used their time on Tuesday evenings filling out college applications and studying for the ACT.
And in just a few short years, Sister Robinson has seen many successes. "Consistency and longevity have helped the program flourish," she explained. "They know why they are here. They feel it is a place of refuge. I know that because they bring their friends. You wouldn't bring your friends to a place you didn't feel safe."
Kimberly said she likes bringing her friends to Hotdogs and Homework. "They not only get to do their homework, but they also get to learn a little about us too," she said.
When everyone is done, they put the tables away and play basketball.
"I want them to know they can also come here and have fun," Sister Robinson said.
Daisy comes even when she doesn't have homework. "I come for the fun."
Ruddy Duran, 17, has been coming on Tuesdays for a year now. "I need to pass school and there is basketball and food," he said, adding that his mentors are "like my best friends."