ATLANTA: Deacon’s dream puts at-risk children on a ‘path to shine’

Deacon Lesley-Ann Drake, who founded Path To Shine, tutors students in the Smyrna, Ga., after-school enrichment class sponsored by the Iglesia de San Benedicto, a Spanish-speaking Episcopal congregation. Twenty students are served currently, and there is a waiting list. Photo/Path To Shine

Deacon Lesley-Ann Drake, who founded Path To Shine, tutors students in the Smyrna, Ga., after-school enrichment class sponsored by the Iglesia de San Benedicto, a Spanish-speaking Episcopal congregation. Twenty students are served currently, and there is a waiting list. Photo/Path To Shine

[Diocese of Atlanta] While preparing to become a deacon in the Episcopal Church, Lesley-Ann Drake volunteered one evening at an Atlanta-area women’s shelter. An encounter with a young single mother of four was so profound that Drake heard “a still, small voice” that compelled her to act.

“I realized then I could do something to help children in need understand the importance of graduating from high school and going to college, of staying away from bad influences,” said Drake, who was ordained a deacon in 2011.

Soon she was designing and launching an after-school program for at-risk children. Her goal: to offer children living in poverty a different pathway to adulthood – to give them a “path to shine.”

Deacon Drake knew that children in low-income families lack the opportunities that other children do. Her Path To Shine nonprofit connects such children with church volunteers able to offer two-to-one attention with reading, homework and enrichment activities.

The natural connection between churches and schools surfaced early in her work. She first contacted MUST Ministries to determine which students in Smyrna might benefit from an after-school tutoring program. Many came from Green Acres Elementary School, a short walk from Green Acres Baptist Church in Smyrna, which was most agreeable to offering space and volunteers. And the school-church partnership was born.

Today “Path To Shine” has after-school programs operating in Smyrna, in Macon and Marietta, and another just opened in Canton.  “God is clearly not an Episcopalian and has the same mission for all Christians: to help the most vulnerable,” Drake said. So far, Path To Shine has engaged Episcopalians as well as Seventh-Day Adventists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists, and members of nondenominational churches.

 The Path To Shine after-school enrichment program at Southside Community Church, Macon, Ga., has been operating for two years under the leadership of Episcopal Deacon Janet Tidwell. Volunteer tutors include Episcopalians as well as people like Frank Ellis (right) of Macon’s Northminster Presbyterian Church. The program serves 12 children from kindergarten to fourth grade. Photo/Lesley-Ann Drake


The Path To Shine after-school enrichment program at Southside Community Church, Macon, Ga., has been operating for two years under the leadership of Episcopal Deacon Janet Tidwell. Volunteer tutors include Episcopalians as well as people like Frank Ellis (right) of Macon’s Northminster Presbyterian Church. The program serves 12 children from kindergarten to fourth grade. Photo/Lesley-Ann Drake

Giving the children enrichment opportunities outside the classroom is an important component. The life-enrichment aspect of Path To Shine incorporates museum visits, trips to the ball park, and for older children a chance to go to summer camp.

Drake welcomed earlier this month the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta’s Bishop Rob Wright to the Path To Shine group at Olive Springs Baptist Church in Marietta (see photo at top).  Seated in a circle of chairs with a dozen children, Wright talked about his struggles growing up and about the choices he made.  He also reinforced how much reading and going to school have influenced his life.

There are many ways to help and become involved with Path To Shine, from stepping up as a volunteer to purchasing a book for a child.

  • “Drawing the Circle Wider” is the theme for a how-to Path To Shine workshop Saturday, March 2, from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m. at the Diocese of Atlanta Ministry Fair. Those who are interested in attending  may contact Drake directly.
  • Donate to and purchase items at a yard sale and barbecue on Saturday, March 23, at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church in Smyrna.
  • The Spring into the Arts benefit for Path To Shine is from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at a historic home on Howell Mill Road; it features a performance by the Lynn Swanson Festival Singers. Tickets are $40.

To learn more about Path To Shine, click here.   To contact Deacon Lesley-Ann Drake, write to lesleyann@pathtoshine.org.

– Nan Ross is the director of communication for the Diocese of Atlanta. 

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