CLC seeks expansion to Clear Creek campus
More than 30 years ago, a group of concerned citizens developed a vision for impacting the youth of the community and then put feet to their prayers by creating the Gilmer Christian Learning Center.
“Now it’s our turn,” said Jennifer Colson, director of the nonprofit, which allows public school students to take free Bible-based elective classes, as she outlined the vision for expanding the ministry.
That plan for the future includes building a second site to serve seventh- and eighth-graders at Clear Creek Middle School.
‘Lives have been changed’
Since 1985, more than 5,700 students have taken classes at CLC, and the Bible has been taught on the site for more than 33,000 hours.
“Through the CLC program, lives have been changed ... Families have been changed,” observed Colson during the organization’s annual banquet Thursday, Sept. 29, in the First Baptist Church fellowship hall.
This semester, “110 students, 110 lives, 110 souls who we get to share Jesus with” attend classes at the center each day.
Since its inception, the program has offered courses for Gilmer High School students and in 2015 launched a class for sixth-graders at Gilmer Middle School.
Colson’s next hope is to expand the nonprofit to reach students at Clear Creek Middle School.
“We feel like God has given us a special opportunity for those seventh- and eighth-graders ... We don’t want them to fall through the cracks,” she said.
Meeting students ‘where they are’
Colson emphasized there is a large need locally for the continuation and expansion of the released-time program, which uses the Bible as its textbook and has been approved by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The students face so many difficult things in life ... They come in hurting. They come in with so many burdens,” she told event attendees. “Many of them are the adult in their household. Many of them are the ones providing financially for their household. Many of them have families ... addicted to something. And so they come to CLC wondering, ‘Who is God? Is there a God?’ ... Where are they going to ask these questions? They can ask at CLC.”
Colson explained that faith is not a prerequisite for participating in the program.
“When students sign up for CLC, they know they don’t have to be a believer in Christ to take the class,” she said. “Many take CLC to get their questions answered about Christianity, about the Bible and about Jesus. So many students these days have questions, and they are afraid to ask ... Our entire society and our culture shout that there is no God. They shout, ‘If you believe in the Bible, you’re crazy’ ... That’s what our students are growing up hearing, believing, seeing every single day. And that’s why CLC is so amazing, because we’re able to meet these students where they are on a daily basis (through) a public school, and we’re able to teach them and show them and love them and help them understand who God is in a real way.”
Colson observed many students hear about Jesus and issues of faith through popular culture, but they receive a false view from those sources.
“But when they come into our class, we open up God’s word every day, and we’re able to show them who Jesus is because we love Jesus,” the director explained. “We’re able to be a place where they can find Jesus. We’re able to speak the truth of God’s word into their lives on a daily basis, and we’re able to show them Christ through our actions. They experience kindness and compassion. They have adults who notice them and care for them.”
Former CLC student Hannah Towns addressed banquet attendees about her experiences in the program.
“It’s an incredible ministry ... It taught me more than just the history and great heritage we have in the Bible,” she said before describing how the program helped her learn to minister to her fellow students in times of need and to realize her self-worth was based on who God said she was.
Colson noted not all of the students who come through the program choose to follow Christ.
“But they all hear the gospel of Jesus and spend a semester being loved,” she said, adding her hope is that students will experience “Jesus and joy” when they come to the ministry.
‘Now we need you’
At the close of the banquet, Colson explained that the CLC already owns property adjacent to Clear Creek Middle School.
“We have the vision. We have the plan, and now we need you,” said Colson. “We need awareness to grow. We need monthly support to double (in order to maintain the second site).”
In an appeal for the community to help launch the new location, board member Kent Sanford added, “The world around us has changed so much. Children are being exposed to things younger ... Every year we fail to get (the campus at CCMS), 700 kids move higher up the age ladder.”
He also noted funds raised at banquets in recent years will help to fund some of the capital investment for the project, but support is needed to help make the project sustainable long term.
To learn more about the CLC and how to get involved with the organization, call 706-635-7100. Online donations can be made at gilmerclc.org.