Sometimes, things just work out. Just ask Meredith Pierce. About 10 years ago, she and her church, Gainesville First United Methodist, started a Bible study with kids at the Baker & Glover Mobile Home Park on Casper Drive in North Hall.
They have now partnered with Path Project, an organization that helps set up community centers in mobile home parks to teach kids about the Bible through education and positive relationships, to help the community thrive.
“They do exactly what I’ve always wanted to do,” said Pierce, a community director for Path at Baker & Glover. “And they know how to do it. So they made it possible. A dream basically turned into a reality.”
For 10 years, the church and Pierce have worked with the kids in the mobile home park, helping with homework and teaching Bible studies. Eventually, they started transporting the kids, one of them being Nayeli Espinoza, to the church for a couple hours each week — first, in a small van, then a 15-passenger van and finally a full-sized bus.
“I just thought it would be fun and help me with my homework,” said Espinoza, who now works as an assistant community director with Path at Baker & Glover. “And all my friends would go. It was just a Monday thing.”
Ever since she was in the third grade, Espinoza has been around Pierce. She went to the church, got help with homework and learned about the Bible with other kids. Once she got into sixth grade though, she couldn’t be part of the program — it’s only for elementary-aged kids.
But she always stuck around.
Pierce’s dream was always to reach preschoolers, so she could better prepare them for their first year of school. Parents were hesitant to let their preschoolers travel to the church, though, so Pierce knew it was time to find a more permanent solution to have a more lasting effect on the community.
She said people had told her about Path for a while, but she never had the time to look further into it.
“This is an amazing community,” Pierce said. “But what we noticed was they couldn't help their kids with their homework very well because they're not native English speakers.”
So she finally contacted Path and realized that with its help, she would be able to do everything she had been wanting.
“The big big goal is to help break generational poverty,” Pierce said. “I mean, all you have to do is have one kid go to college and that changes the trajectory of their future.”
So on a lot in Baker & Glover that had an uninhabitable trailer on it, a new one now sits.
It’s white with red trim. There’s a big room with tables and chairs for the kids to do homework. There’s a quiet room, which Pierce said is surprisingly the favorite. It has a bookshelf filled with books and bean bag chairs on the floor. There’s also a room that will eventually have computers for even more help with homework and education.
While the Path Project made everything a little easier for Pierce by finding the trailer, moving it and renovating it, she said the church has completely funded the work. She said “this is the church's baby.”
In just four weeks, First United Methodist was able to raise the funds to make the move and renovation of the trailer possible.
“Path always has a church partner, and usually community partners,” Pierce said. “Gainesville First United Methodist has done everything so far and now we're going to add in community partners. We just haven't had to yet because the church has been so generous. It's been crazy.”
Now instead of once a week help, the kids in Baker & Glover are getting help a few times each week. Right now it’s just preschoolers and elementary-aged children, but Pierce hopes to extend it further as the community center gets established.
Seeing kids grow up like Espinoza is what really makes Pierce believe she is making a difference in the community.
Espinoza recently graduated from North Hall High and plans on going to college to become a preschool teacher. She said she doesn’t consider her job with the Path Project work at all because she enjoys it so much.
“She is pouring back into her community, and that’s like this big loop,” Pierce said. “We poured into her, now she's doing the same.”