In springtime, people think about new beginnings as trees begin to bud with tender green leaves and, finally, bursts of color appear.
This year feels different: For many, the brightness of the season is tinged with uncertainty because of the coronavirus. In Prichard, John and Dolores Eads and their Light of the Village (LOV) team are making sure that less-fortunate children are served during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’ve got 30 to 40 families we’ve been dropping off supplies to every other week,” said John Eads who, with his wife, in 2001 founded the nonprofit to assist families. “We’ve been doing this for the past month, helping children in Prichard, Chickasaw and Mobile. It’s part of our mission to help encourage people.”
On April 9, the Eads and three staff members delivered Easter baskets, crafts supplies and food to 120 children. Feeding families is one way the LOV team stays connected with kids they serve, especially since school has been halted. Churches and people around Mobile have donated to help deliver food to families in need.
“We wanted to deliver these bags of food and supplies to brighten their day and show them God’s love,” Eads said. “We sorted everything that was given by the churches that partner with us and put it in equal bags. It really stinks that we don’t get to see the kids as often as we usually would. It’s good that we can supply them with some basic necessities.”
During the school year, the nonprofit provides free after-school programs for low-income children. In the summer, LOV cares for 400 children on weekdays, vanpooling kids each morning from their homes to the nonprofit’s five mission camps in Chickasaw, Maysville and Prichard. LOV provides nutritious meals, learning games, playtime and Bible studies.
“It’s a totally free program,” said Eads, who was a hospital administrator before leaving his job to create LOV. Dolores was a special education teacher for 14 years before entering full-time ministry. LOV sponsors Camp Christo in Juarez, Mexico, and conducts ministry trips in other areas.
Light of the Village is adapting to the “new normal” – life under the threat of COVID-19. Before social distancing became the norm, staff members picked up children from school and took them to the after-school programs, gathering kids for a hot meal, help with homework and Bible study. Boys and girls were grouped by age.
Since March, LOV staff have adapted their daily programs by using YouTube and Zoom. Staff members send lesson links for the day’s programs so children can view after-school classes or listen to Bible lessons for discussion in a Zoom conference meeting.
“On April 8, we talked about Jesus being on a boat in the sea, in the middle of a raging storm,” Eads said. “It’s the best parallel we can come up with to compare with what’s going on. Jesus is with us through the storm.”
Helping kids have a better, happier future
For more than 15 years, the Eads led Christian outreach efforts with Prison Fellowship Ministries in San Antonio, Texas. When the church moved to Alabama, the couple noticed that few groups worked with underprivileged youngsters.
During winter 2001, the couple stepped up to help youths in Prichard after a 6-year-old boy was shot and killed and a police officer was wounded at a public housing complex.
“It was a real defining moment, right before Christmas,” Eads said. “After all that happened, we delivered gifts and food on Sunday morning, Dec. 23. We felt God leading us to do a Christmas party there at Queens Court apartments. That’s how our ministry transitioned from prisons to the neighborhood side.
“We saw the need, and we thought, ‘Let’s see if God will make this work,’” Eads said. “This is how Light of the Village evolved into this. We’ve helped thousands of kids.”
Along with the joys of helping children do well in school and go on to successful futures, the work has not been without heartache. Since 2001, LOV has lost 41 participants to gang- or drug-related shootings. Those participants are never forgotten – a photo of each person graces the wall of the nonprofit’s office in Prichard.
“It’s been pretty turbulent,” said Eads, whose close-up view of the community’s problems is comparable to “looking through a telephoto lens.
“I put this is in the terms of living in a violent culture,” he said. “Our goal is to bring a total resemblance of hope, faith and love to these children. We are building strong relationships with them. It’s been a wild journey along the way. For us, it’s a full-time deal. That’s where the magic is – it’s very important to us to bring that level of caring to these children.”
Eads said it would be impossible to boost the community without help from churches and the Alabama Power Foundation, which has bestowed grants to further the nonprofit’s mission. Members of the Mobile Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization assist at many special events, such as an APSO-sponsored bowling party to reward youth leaders.
In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Eads said the nonprofit will continue to focus on each child. He knows firsthand the importance of building relationships to counteract the prevailing culture.
Along with staff members and volunteers, Eads is eager to see the end of the health crisis and the start of LOV’s annual summer program.
“We’re showing the children they aren’t forgotten by mailing coloring books and other stuff, and delivering food,” Eads said. “We’re adapting to this situation and letting our children know that they are important.”