Cruisers come and go from the south coast of Grenada for a myriad of reasons. It's one of the best hurricane season hideaways; marine facilities are plentiful; and for some, it's a place where they can lend a hand to a special group of kids.
Up country from St. Georges on a windy hillside sits the Mt. Airy Community Center, a bar and clubhouse that doubles as a Saturday school. The students come from a catchment area stretching across the island on their own volition, traveling by bus or on foot.
Working with The Mt. Airy Young Readers Program is a constantly changing group of cruisers organized by one of their own via the VHF Grenada Cruisers Net. All week long the call for volunteers goes out, and those that do volunteer are collected early Saturday morning by yet another volunteer, Keith of K&J Taxi. His taxi-bus slowly fills, stop by stop, with old friends and new acquaintances. Seasoned tutors tell the story of the program, share a few teaching strategies and describe the kids and their needs.
This unusual educational program, now in its fourth year of existence, was started quite by accident by Grenadians Jeanne and Everest Pascal. A friend told them about a couple of children who needed help so they inquired about the center. Jeanne explained, "When we started it they said we couldn't use the building for just two kids so I said, 'OK, but we'll do no more than six.' Six came and the following week seven showed up. The next week ten." Laughing, she added, "It was soon out of control."
The program ran with little help until a few years ago when two cruisers inquired with the Peace Corps office about possible volunteer opportunities. They made the trip to Mt Airy, recognized a need and got busy spreading the word. Soon there was a steady stream of help.
No one is required to make a commitment and since no one is turned away, each Saturday is a surprise. "Sometimes there are too many kids and not enough tutors," said Everest. Other times it works out just right. The ideal student to teacher ratio is one to one, but small groups of a couple kids each seem to work just fine.
Looking around the room, overflowing with energetic bodies and activity, Everest explained what motivates the kids to come. "These children aren't lucky as far as structure and opportunity. They don't have much. Most have only one parent. This kind of caring from adults, being able to put an arm around an adult, they don't get that at home."
Teen Patrick Roach, who recently joined the group said, "It's educating. I like working with the adults who come." His focus, math, is helping to prepare him for his final year of school. In another part of the room laughter spills out as the youngest kids learn to read using games and books. A few tutors lead small book groups; everyone's busy. It's a one-room school house bursting at the shuttered doors.
Veteran tutor Chris Wild from Virginia has been lending a helping hand on and off for two years. Part of the original group of cruisers, he's motivated to return because, he explained, "I like the kids. I mostly work with the older ones on math. We're now personal friends with Jeanne and Everest." For Wild, the payment comes from watching the kids grow academically and personally. "We get an understanding of what it's like to live here."
The current cruiser organizer, Hope from the yacht Starshine, talked about another level of support from the floating community. "Last year the cruisers held an auction at the Big Fish Restaurant. It was a fun night and they raised $5,000 US for the program." Donations purchased a printer, ink cartridges, chairs and curriculum materials, and funds were set aside for scholarships and school transport costs.
When asked if he's seen the kids' skills grow Everett proclaimed, "Definitely! That's where the reward is, that's the big money. When you have a child who can't read and then they get to the point where they want to be the first to read, that's the payoff."