A new faith-based youth development center is at work on FM 1252 near Kilgore – Restoration of the Spectrum Ministries currently serves select students from Gladewater and White Oak along with a handful of other nearby communities.
“Our mission is to provide education and support to underserved individuals,” Josh Hunt said, specifically “special needs children and at-risk youth in the area.”
While the number of available spots is limited for the nonprofit outreach, when there’s an opening “We won’t turn anybody down as long as they’re willing.”
A Coast Guard veteran and former officer for the New Orleans Police Department, Hunt has 21 years’ experience as a certified chef and previously put those skills toward education, teaching culinary arts at Kilgore College and Longview High School. He’s since turned his focus toward Biblical studies and ministry.
According to Hunt, decades back he dropped out of his all-boys Catholic school in Louisiana two weeks before graduation. He made his way forward, embraced second chances and wants to help others do the same.
“Life happens and things happen. We have one student who’s on probation. We have another who had a child at 16. Regardless of circumstances, we believe that they deserve second chances,” Hunt said. Some students are on the autism spectrum or dealing with ADHD, anger issues and other challenges that make a public school education a particular challenge. Helping each navigate their hurdles, “We want to provide a community and be able to educate those in our community who have been passed over in the public school environment. We try to keep them geared in the direction of success instead of falling off the grid.
“We want to give them a well-rounded spiritual and academic foundation for their life, to be successful and go forward. The program focuses on the individual students and their aptitude and abilities. We meet them where they are.”
The nonprofit’s Tuesday through Friday school is free-of-charge to the students, covered by grants from corporate sponsors like ABC Auto, with public funds from organizations like Texas Workforce Commission and via contributions from the private sector.
“Everything is from donors,” Hunt said. “Everything is paid for. None of this costs the parents anything.”
With an all-volunteer staff, the program does have a limited capacity.
“None of us get paid. We want to do it, and we love the kids,” Hunt said. “With the current volunteers we have and the amount of space we have, we can take up to 20 now in the current location we’re in.
“We’re working on writing grants and working with partners to fundraise. Eventually, we’d like to have our own building. We are looking to grow and expand.”
Restoration of the Spectrum is the umbrella organization for a broad outreach that, in addition to daytime education, includes a Monday night dinner and youth ministry plus offshoots like the ‘Restoration Radio’ podcast and the ministry’s ‘5 Loaves and 2 Fish’ catering operation that contributes a bit more funding the overall effort.
“The kids actually help us prepare the food and put stuff together,” Hunt says, drawing on his culinary background for vocational and life skills lessons for the students. “That’s just three-ingredient meals, something they can go home and cook on their own.”
The Monday night ministry highlights life skills even more while incorporating anti-bullying and other practical lessons, “All the things we feel would make them be more successful in the world. We have about 25 who come on Monday night. It doesn’t matter where you’re at in life, what you’re situation is.”
The group’s board includes teachers with Masters level degrees, a psychologist with experience working with children who have experienced trauma, a childcare advocate and Hunt, with his background in the culinary arts, divinity training and law enforcement.
“All of us came together,” he said. “We’re dedicated to educating, guiding and leading using reading and writing, science, phys ed, math – all the basics.”
The program uses the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum for pre-K through 12th grade. Established in February, the ministry’s first academic year began in August with students from Gladewater, White Oak, Kilgore, Longview, Tyler, Henderson, Troup and Arp – the youngest is in first grade, the oldest is a senior.
“They’ll only advance after they master each academic concept. They go at their own pace with us. It’s education, it’s faith-based, it’s also mentorship,” integrating post-graduation work opportunities from program supporters and advocates. “The eventual goal is to be able to grow it into a public/private school, but not a private school where they would have to pay.”
The center will be hosting a ‘Sensitive Santa’ event for children with special needs Dec. 9. Learn more through ‘Restoration of the Spectrum Ministries’ on Facebook.
“Another part of the goal long-term is to have the ability in our building to offer free or sliding-scale mental health services for them as well.”
– By James Draper