Believing that early intervention is the key to future academic and vocational success, the staff and volunteers of the Joshua Group are helping to expand children’s educational opportunities in the city of Harrisburg.
Kirk Hallett, founder and director of the Joshua Group, said, “Everybody who works here is on the same page of trying to help these kids be all they can be.”
Only two of those people, Hallett and education support coordinator Deb Miller, are full-time Joshua Group employees. They collaborate with a few part-time staff members and a cadre of volunteers to serve the needs of their young clients. Their successes have been recognized and rewarded by Highmark subsidiaries, which have given more than $100,000 to the Joshua Group in recent years.
Hallett started the Joshua Group after working with Harrisburg kids as a volunteer and realizing that education was the key to helping them dream of a better future. Hallett left his career in construction equipment sales to begin the Joshua Group in 1998.
“It lets kids own their future instead of being victims of the present.”
Over the past year, the Joshua Group has expanded its services to more students, thanks to raising $900,000 in a capital campaign and the 2014 renovation of a spacious, old brick house on Market Street in Harrisburg.
The brightly painted interior is impressive — 40 computers await students after school and over the summer. In fact, a vibrant summer academic program accommodates 70 youths.
Currently, the Joshua Group has more than 50 children enrolled in its pre-kindergarten program, many of whom are on a waiting list for a Head Start kindergarten readiness program. Older children enrolled in public and private schools stop by the Joshua Learning Center after school to do homework and get assistance with reading and math.
Students can get an afternoon snack or dinner as well. The Joshua Group contracts with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank to provide about 100 meals a day — both lunch and dinner — to students who participate in the organization’s learning activities.
Miller said that the Joshua Group likes to start helping students in the first few grades so they can develop good study habits as early as possible. She added that Joshua Group students have gained, on average, one and a half years in proficiency in reading and math, due in part to software programs.
The extra attention pays off. Hallett highlighted another key indicator of their success: Of the Joshua Group kids who participate in their most intense program, the high school graduation rate is about 97%, compared to an overall Harrisburg graduation rate of about 45%.
About 20 former Joshua Group “graduates” are now enrolled in college, an obvious source of pride for Hallett and Miller. The Joshua Group staff and volunteers assisted the students with college admission and financial aid applications.
In addition to hands-on tutoring and guidance for youth on site, the Joshua Group provides funding for about 50 K-12 students to attend private school. Highmark’s recent gift of $100,000 will be used to fund the private school scholarship program, which is supported by other private contributions as well.
Early educational intervention today makes a difference in students’ lives tomorrow. It’s what the Joshua Group believes, and it’s a community mission that Highmark proudly supports.
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