Parents Learn About Mary Walker Foundation’s Camp Reach During Virtual Orientation

Screenshot from last Saturday’s virtual orientation for the Mary Walker Historical and Educational Foundation’s Camp REACH.

By Camm Ashford 

Parents got a chance last Saturday morning to meet the Mary Walker Historical and Educational Foundation staff and learn more about Camp REACH (Respect, Earn, Achieve, Citizenship and Hard Work).

 The virtual meeting was a mandatory orientation for parents and/or guardians of the more than 50 rising 9th-12th graders who will be attending the Christian and work-based enrichment camp June 6-July 15.

Mary Walker Foundation Executive Director and Chronicle Media Group Senior Advisor “Coach” Lurone Jennings Sr. said Camp REACH is built on the tenets of “family engagement and parental support.” It will offer students instruction in leadership skills, basic life and work skills, vocational skills (house painting), music and art, journalism, and transportation logistics through a partnership with Network Transport in East Brainerd.

The Mary Walker Historical and Educational Foundation is an affiliate of the Chronicle Media Group. 

Camp REACH will take place Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Hope City Church, 7 North Tuxedo Ave. Students will be paid a $150 stipend every week for 6 weeks, if they successfully complete all assignments.

When setting up Camp REACH, Coach Jennings took into consideration his own experiences and observations as a young man growing up in Chattanooga more than 40 years ago–a time when inner city families were facing some of the same issues struggling families still face today–illiteracy, poor education, family abandonment, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, crime, poverty, high unemployment and high prison population. 

Jennings said over the years he has developed a passion for urban transformation using “real and practical ways,” and believes in empowerment through a Biblical perspective that includes financial stewardship and literacy. 

“I grew up very challenged and poor, so I know what it’s like not to have enough to make ends meet,” Coach Jennings explained. “That’s why I dedicated my life to helping others who have come through some of the same situations that I have.”

Camp REACH staff includes: Gary Cogar, painting; Timiethea Delaney, music; Scott Garinger, logistics; Carol Hunter, finance; Willie Kitchens Jr., music; Keisha Moore, parent coordinator; Independence (Kansas) Community College Professor LaTonya Pinkard, academic dean; Yolanda Putman, journalism; and Elizabeth Tallman, assistant. 

Mary Walker was born in 1848 In Union Springs, Alabama, and was enslaved until she was 15, when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed In 1863. She was married and had her first child by the age of 20. Walker and her family relocated to Chattanooga in 1917. By the age of 114, Walker had lost all three of her children as well as her husband.

In 1963, at the extraordinary age of 116, Walker enlisted in the Chattanooga Area Literacy Movement (CALM), where she was taught by volunteer teacher Helen Kelly to read, write, add, and subtract in a one-hour lesson two times a week for more than a year. As a former slave, once forbidden to learn reading and writing, she had finally met her lifelong goal.

Walker, who lived through 26 presidents, was awarded numerous medals and accolades for her endurance and determination, and was certified as the “Nation’s Oldest Student” by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Following her death in 1969, the city of Chattanooga renamed the retirement home in which she lived the Mary Walker Towers, and built a memorial at 3031 Wilcox Blvd. to honor her life.

The Mary Walker Historical and Educational Foundation has been in operation since it was established in 1970 by the Rev. John Loyd Edwards, Jr., father of Chattanooga News Chronicle founder and President John L. Edwards III. Its mission is “to help alleviate poverty for all Chattanooga citizens and help create economic stability through literacy training and educational activities.”