Podcast Transcript: Project Transformation

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Project Transformation Podcast Transcript:

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about a program that works with kids over the summer to help them maintain and improve their reading skills. If you’ve never heard of or volunteered for Project Transformation, you’ve missed out on a beautiful opportunity (and it’s truly one of the easiest places to volunteer with).

So what Is Project Transformation? It’s so much more than just helping kids with their reading levels. It’s an organization that brings together college-aged young adults, children and churches to transform entire communities. Now remember that when I talk about a national organization, each chapter may look a little different, so what I describe, may not be exactly what you see in your community, but the mission in each area is the same.

Here’s what the Project Transformation website says about their work:

Project Transformation provides two key services:

1)   Leadership development and ministry exploration opportunities for college-age young adults through summer and one-year service internships

2)   Community-oriented after-school and summer day camp programming for children and youth from low-income neighborhoods.

The young adults provide this second service, giving them authentic, hands-on experiences leading high-quality programs for children and youth and equally important, learning from the children and youth. Project Transformation’s programs focus on enriching the body, mind, and spirit, but they place a strong emphasis on literacy. During the summer, each child is paired daily with a volunteer to read one-on-one. Programs are strategically housed in churches in the heart of low-income communities. This partnership between these site churches and Project Transformation is designed so that churches can leverage the program to make new connections and form meaningful relationships with families in their immediate neighborhood.

For this podcast, I’m going to talk more about what I’ve seen in the Tennessee Project Transformation chapter—and at times specifically West Tennessee because that’s where I have seen this group in action.

Here’s what the Tennessee Project Transformation says about their work:


College students invest in the lives of children while living in community, exploring their calling, and developing as servant leaders.

Children improve their literacy, social-emotional, and spiritual development through participating in high-quality, out-of-school time programs led by college-age young adults.

Churches host our out-of-school time programs, reconnecting and building relationships with their neighbors.

Here’s a little history about the Tennessee Project Transformation group:

Project Transformation Tennessee started in 2012 and is based on the model which was founded in Dallas, Texas, in 1998. Here’s what they say their challenges are:

1)   how to meet the academic, physical, social-emotional, and spiritual needs of children;

2)   how to provide meaningful ways for college-age young adults to explore ministry opportunities and develop as young principled leaders for the church and the world;

3)   and how to help revitalize churches in underserved communities.

OK, so that’s the formal introduction to this organization. I’m going to tell you now the informal side to what I’ve witnessed. I heard about Project Transformation through a very dynamic young adult who attends the same church I do. We’ve actually attended two churches together as we are both now part of a church plant in my hometown. That’s an entirely different story.

She was serving as one of the college interns and was very passionate about the summer program. I heard her talking about the volunteer program that needed a few extra people. So our church organized times for several of us to go down together and help out. Now I wasn’t able to help out a lot that year, so I am by no means telling you this because I am lifting up my own work. I played a very tiny role during only one week of the summer.

But I always like to share with you what I saw with my owns eyes. One of the directors gave new volunteers a brief introduction to what we would be doing and what the morning would look like for us. The program is so easy to follow as a volunteer that the intro was all we needed to get started.

After that, the fun part came…the kids entered the room and had a folder. I’m basing this on my memory alone right now, so I may be missing a few details or things may have changed a bit, but as I remember, we had the grade level the kids were reading on. All of the books were lined up in very organized storage units and we color coded to match the reading levels of eth children. So, for example, if my child was reading on the yellow level, we picked out books with the yellow marking. I didn’t have to guess if anything was a good book for the child. Then we just sat on pews or on the floor of the room we were in—wherever we were comfortable.

Then the kids read out loud to us. We helped them sound out any words they struggled with—but it was so fun to see them choose a book and read it to us. We had enough time to chat a bit…is there was a dog in the book, we could ask if they had a pet. We asked what they liked about school and what they liked about the Project Transformation summer camp. But mostly, we were listeners and they were readers.

Now you’d have to ask an intern what happened outside of that room. I don’t know all of the details about what the kids did when they weren’t reading with us. I know they were divided into groups and come in with their groups while other groups enjoyed other activities. I think maybe they did art or had some fun activities they did together. The interns organized much more than we ever saw as a reading volunteer.

But I was impressed by the organization of the interns and their leadership skills they were showing when I was there. I loved their excitement over working with the kids. I know from hearing this intern talk that the interns themselves also have a time where they are guided by other community members as they deepen their faith and learn to use their gifts to serve others through various ministries. The interns become part of the community they are serving…they worship in the host church and get to know community members and leaders through their own times together.

So I’m going to let you explore their website more to find out what’s in store if you want to be a summer intern for this organization.

But I want to add another little section here about another way to support this group—they have a family night at the end of the year and family members and siblings of the campers come and enjoy a dinner together. This year our church plant was one of the groups volunteering at the Family Night thanks again to some of our young adults including the same young adult who introduced me to Project Transformation.

It’s a night to see the kids show off their artwork and play games they learned with the interns. And it’s a time to serve the parents and encourage them as they are doing the great job of raising these kids.

So does this program actually help the kids?

Each year, Project Transformation engages over 80 college-age young adults in ministry and service with more than 700 children and youth in 9 site churches across Tennessee alone. You can research your home state to see what Project Transformation is doing there.

But the Tennessee stats are impressive:

  • 99% of children and youth maintain or improve their reading levels over the summer
  • 94% of young adult alumni say the Project Transformation prepared them for future leadership in the church or community.

I think you can call that success for all involved!

Your challenge for the week is going to be researching literacy programs for children in your community…find out who reads with kids over the summer to help them maintain their reading levels.

Also look to see who uses paid college interns in your area for opportunities that provide them college resources and allows them to use their talents to support local communities and meet the needs of under-served neighborhoods.

You can’t volunteer at every single place that has a need…you would be too tired to function if you did that. You can, however, be aware of your community resources and be aware of the needs of others in your community. You may be able to volunteer for just one season or donate books or funds or connect on social media and repost their stories.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.