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Greenville Business Magazine

Eleos Ministry: Graduating to Community Leaders

Jan 02, 2018 01:08PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Debbie Nelson

Greenville County Schools is focused on increasing the number of students who graduate from high school. Earlier this year, the district’s graduation rate was reported at an all-time high of 86.8 percent, a 20 percent increase since 2012. Bobby Kendrick is part of this encouraging statistic.

Bobby’s family moved to Greenville from Ohio during his sophomore year. In his own words, “I didn’t want to be here and I was struggling to get through high school. English and history were my hardest classes. But all of this changed one day while walking through Nicholtown. My pastor, Darian Blue, introduced me to a new neighbor, Cam Hill.”

After their initial introduction, Bobby developed a friendship with Cam and his wife, Joy. “We just clicked,” shared Bobby. And this pivotal relationship expanded over the past three years.

Bobby became the first participant in what is now known as the Eleos Ministry. This year, after successfully graduating from J.L. Mann High School, he began to give back by volunteering for this start-up organization.

Cam and Joy Hill founded Eleos Ministry, a 100 percent volunteer-lead organization, less than two years ago. This nonprofit serves the Nicholtown community with a mission of ensuring that every participant has the opportunity to become an instrument of restoration in their community.

Bobby started his journey with Eleos by attending its Open Gym program on Tuesday evenings. Each week, a group of 30 to 40 Nicholtown youth and volunteer leaders gather at the Phillis Wheatley Community Center to play basketball.

Participants discover how to compete without letting the results define them. Often a person’s insecurities can dominate how he or she feels or acts when playing sports. Name-calling and trash talk can be common. This is the language of survival for many. Eleos Ministry instills in the youth they should compete with all of their strength, without putting their identities on the line.

“Cam sets the rules. As you might imagine, everyone is very competitive,” shared Bobby. “He encourages us to respect each other…to work hard and play well and build up those around us. And of course to have fun!”

According to Hill, he started the Open Gym program as an outlet for exercise while at the same time instilling values.

Following basketball, everyone sits on the bleachers in the gym and the youth have the opportunity to ask questions about how they see the world. Questions can range from the simple to the profound. Consider this line of questioning: What is the point of life? Why keep going in the face of hardship?

In addition, Eleos provides all of the Open Gym participants with a free healthy dinner and tutoring services. Hill explained the food is just a means to an end. Mealtime is all about the conversations that occur between the youth and the volunteers around the dinner table. “When we eat together – it is a time to laugh and joke,” chuckled Bobby.

Hill reflects, “The ultimate goal for Open Gym is to build solid relationships with the youth and to connect them to each other. Eleos Ministry believes that outsiders cannot be the agents of change for a community; instead, change must come from within. We are working with the young people in the Nicholtown neighborhood to help them discover their own gifts and cultivate their potential. This is our view of community development. And Bobby is a perfect example of this.“

When Bobby started with Eleos, he was nervous about meeting new people. He soon found out, though, that these volunteers were kind folks who were there to help. He recalls early on meeting a volunteer named Danny at Open Gym. One night while playing ball, Bobby’s eyeglasses broke. Danny asked for Bobby’s prescription and came back the next week with a new pair of glasses. Bobby reflected, “I couldn’t believe he would do this for me. I just gave him a huge hug!”

Bobby is truly becoming a leader in Nicholtown. Through his experiences with Eleos, he is developing the leadership skills to help others in his community. And while he has only been there a few short years, neighbors see him as the “go-to person.” And at Eleos Ministry, he leads a team and serves as a mentor to others. If the youth are having problems at home or at school or need some relationship advice, they often turn to Bobby.

When asked how Eleos has changed his life, Bobby responded without missing a beat: “Eleos Ministry has taught me how to be a leader instead of a follower. I am going to take this gift as far as I can.”

Debbie Nelson is the President of DNA Creative Communications, an inspirational marketing and public relations firm for nonprofits. She is the founder of Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums in the Upstate and at the state level she coordinates Together SC’s Knowledge Network. Debbie is also an adjunct professor at Presbyterian College and Clemson University.