Watering the Seeds in the Westside Community

Watering the Seeds in the Westside Community

Tesha Crump is a child of the ’80s, wedged somewhere between the greatest generation to ever live and the iGeneration of kids who can work a tablet with their hands tied behind their backs but will occasionally forget to say please and thank you. Even at work, her two jobs—part time home care specialist who works with Alzheimer’s patients and director of an after school program for Searcy Homes, part of Huntsville Housing Authority—bounce her back and forth between the two generations.

A lot of Tesha’s life is spent learning from the older generation then teaching it to the younger one. She remembers a time when going to visit your grandparents meant talking and listening to stories, not watching TV and checking iPhones.

While she spends her time working with the two, very different groups, it all boils down to that saying you’ve heard over and over again: A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

It’s a lesson Tesha learned early when she was spending time with her father, gardening in rural North Carolina. You plant the seeds, take care of them and watch them grow. Without someone tending to the minds of the young and the old, they will stagnate and wither just like the plants.

“That’s faith in God,” Tesha said. “God plants this seed, and then someone has to water it and take care of it. You just have to have that faith, so with the older generation (you have to) turn it around, bring it back to life with these kids.”

Talking to Tesha, you would never know she wasn’t a long-time educator. She talks like someone who has been in front of a classroom for decades but hasn’t lost passion for the students. That’s not the case though. Tesha has two daughters, Xeniya, 11, and Dallas, 3. She started nursing school but soon wanted to quit because—well, you know—patients die. And nurses really don’t like when their patients die.

“Most of the people in my family either were in the military, or they had something to do with education, so there is no such thing as you can’t read—you are going to read,” Tesha said. “There’s no such thing as just not being educated or not knowing how to do something because that’s how my family ties are.”

Summer Learning, Having A Blast

A couple years ago, one of Tesha’s friends invited her to a conference that would discuss the different ways people could help  Cornerstone Initiative, a group that works in the 35805 zip code community of Huntsville—Westside. She went, not knowing what to expect, but left with a group of supporters and a plan. She was going to start a summer enrichment program at Searcy Homes.

There were 16 kids that first year, and Tesha spent her time working on the students’ weaknesses without letting them know that was her plan. Over the course of the summer, she identified ways to reach each student: Did they learn from seeing or hearing? Did it help if they could read the instructions first, or would it be best to jump into a hands-on activity?

“That’s why I’m there,” Tesha said. “I’m able to break down the barriers of communication and whatnot and make it fun … We make sure we keep it open and diverse because there are a lot of different cultures that come through there. It’s not just African-American kids or just white kids. You’ve got (Hispanic) kids. You’ve got Polynesians. It’s just so different.”

This was far from summer school. Guest teachers came in and helped the students do everything from coding to building robots out of pool noodles and the motor from a dollar-store toothbrush.

Scouting Life Skills

When the Boy Scout leaders heard about Tesha’s summer program, they hired her on as the director of an after-school program at Searcy Homes. This troop is open to girls as well, so Tesha is able to bring her daughters to make new friends.

Kids from ages 3 to 18, and even some adults in continuing education classes, show up for afternoon help at Searcy Homes. Tesha teaches them the basics but also dives into life skills they will need later on, like writing and cashing checks, paying bills and managing finances.

“I want them to understand the value of money and life situations and that things happen. And sometimes you lose things and you might lose all of your money,” Tesha said

One of the games they play has students going through pretend situations after getting a paycheck. Some of the students go bankrupt while others have to get a loan. We’ve all been there—that shell-shocked moment when you realize what interest is and that your loan will end up costing you way more—so this life-situations game is a soft entry into the world of budgeting and financing.

“To me, all the activities that we all do at Searcy … make sure that the kids are better later on,” Tesha said.

The Bigger Picture

Tesha’s work at Searcy Homes is just a cog in the wheel that is making the 35805 zip code better. Now, several parents come over to read with their children while Tesha is teaching others, mainly teenage boys, who are learning to express themselves and talk about their feelings—although that is an impressive feat in any geography, not just in central Huntsville.

“It’s very, very beautiful when you see the bigger picture,” Tesha said. “That’s what I love about Cornerstone (Initiative), it’s the bigger picture. It’s a problem right now, but a problem can be solved … When you see the bigger picture and everything is clicking and ticking and tocking the way that its supposed to, you just understand that this is part of the bigger picture, and this is where you’re supposed to be.”

Even some of the hard-to-reach students are opening up. Tesha talks about one child, Harmony, who had some tough hits in the last few years. Her grandmother died, leaving Harmony’s mother to take care of her five own siblings, some of whom were younger than Harmony. She went from being the only child to living in a family with six kids after her aunts and uncles moved in with her. When Harmony came to the program, she was calloused and cocky and unwilling to soften up enough to learn. It took some time plus a lot of listening, but Harmony eventually let her guard down with Tesha enough to become the student she was meant to be.

“When people sit down and really get to know them past that hard exterior and whatnot, and they get to that soft, yolky part on the inside, then you get to hear their inner child,” Tesha said. “I wish I could have a recorder for when the kids (are) laughing … their laughs are different because they’re relaxed.”

It took a year, but today Harmony has learned how to be humble, even when she knows all the answers, and how to ask Tesha to do positive activities instead of acting out to get attention. She often asks to read the Bible during their after school time—something Tesha can never say no to.

The Westside community has a fighter in Tesha. For her students, failure is not an option. Whatever it takes, she will be there with a plan to reach them.

“If you come over, you’re going to succeed in my world,” Tesha said.

**This post was originally featured in the Community Journal.

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