Hardin with a student. Image: John Mark Coon

Hardin with a student. Image: John Mark Coon

In Old Testament Biblical teachings, a red door meant protection. To this day, the significance still stands as a sign of welcoming hospitality.

Through Red Door Tutoring in west Fondren, teachers and mentors are welcoming students with compassion, education and a true desire to see young people grow.

The program, started in September 2012, is part of a nearly decade-old bible study and game time started by the church, The Journey. But something was missing in all of the games, snacks and bible lessons.

Journey members felt they were becoming irrelevant to the “park kids.” After prayer and discussion, the missing piece, it was decided, was education. They felt that walking alongside students academically would in turn develop deeper mentoring relationships.

Kyle and Katie Howe were instrumental in the development of The Journey’s efforts and the beginning of tutoring in 2012. The young couple with the red door on Northview Drive has since moved to Tennessee and left the program in the hands of Emily Hardin, 32 and Ruth Ann Moss, 23.

Hardin, a stay-at-home mom, moved to Mississippi to be married in 2005. Moss came here from the coast to attend Mississippi College and now teaches in the Jackson Public School system through Teach For America. Both live in west Fondren.

In the short year since beginning, Red Door Tutoring is already making a difference. “Academically, I don’t think either of us will say, ‘All of our kids used to make C’s and D’s and now they make A’s,’” Moss said.

“I wish we could say that,” Hardin responded. The real difference, she explained, has been in the relationships that are being forged.

“One mentor has a relationship with a fatherless 15 year-old and he has totally embraced his role,” Hardin told. “This tutor went to this kid’s football game and stood at the railing, taping plays his student was a part of. He would turn the camera on himself and say, ‘This is your first game, six, your first play of your first game.’ Here’s this kid getting a small glimmer of what a father is like. We feel, if we can give a better picture of what a father is, they can relate to God the father.”

That’s just one story of how this ‘one-on-one’ has been powerful. Hardin and Moss said Red Door Tutoring presents an opportunity to go deeper. “I think of one of our female students who deals with a lot of anger,” Hardin said, “and she softens when we just get in the trenches with her.”

Hardin recounts a session with the girl where fractions were her school homework assignment for the day. When the student leaned across and whispered that she couldn’t divide, Hardin began to teach. “It was one of the greatest moments of my life, where you’re like ‘I can’t believe I got to be a part of this,'” she remembered. “When we figured how to divide, the student threw her head back, laughed and almost cried. That burden was lifted.”

Another burden has been lifted, too, this time for Hardin and Moss. Last summer, John Mark Coon of Fondren Church saw the program in action at what is now Fondren Park, just before the tutoring component was added. “He came alongside us and offered support,” Hardin said. “And (Fondren Church) has gone above and beyond our wildest expectations to bless and support us.”

Red Door Tutoring uses Fondren Church’s space and many of the program’s tutors and mentors are members there. The church hosted Fondren Covered, a musical evening featuring cover songs, and made Red Door the beneficiary. “You don’t often see churches partner like that,” Hardin noted.

Quality over quantity is the future of Red Door. Right now, the program reaches fifteen students from grades two through ten and fifteen tutors and mentors lead. Moss said, “We feel we have as many students and tutors that we can do with excellence.”

For Moss, the teacher, and Hardin, the mom, Red Door should be about more than one meeting a week. “I grew up in a subdivision where everyone just kind of pulled their car in the garage and rolled the door down and you waved when you walked the dog,” Moss said. “It’s been cool to be involved in the joys and the triumphs of people you live so close to geographically.”

Hardin concurred. “We’re in this neighborhood and would love for our lives to intersect. Living here enables us to do that. The kids know they can come hang out while we fold laundry or play with our kids. More integration is, I hope, the future.”

Math, English, reading and science may be on the agenda, but it’s more about the subject of life. Hardin said you hear from adults who had a tough time growing up and the ones who have been able to rise out of those challenges usually say there was this one teacher, this one neighbor — this one whomever that came alongside them and encouraged them. “Everyone needs someone who says, ‘You can do this,’ breathing life into them,” Hardin explained. “We’re excited to be that person because everyone needs someone in their corner.”

Red Door is in need of donations to purchase snacks, their biggest recurring expense. Substitute tutors are also on the list. Better access to technology would be a plus. “If anyone has a refurbished, first generation iPad or two they want to donate, that would be fine,” Moss laughed. They’ve even begun to ‘green light think’ about the future. “We dream about one of those big two-stories on Pine Hill, so the kids wouldn’t have to cross State Street,” Hardin said of long-term planning to one day purchase a Red Door house.

Hardin wouldn’t let the story end without giving a shout-out to the very children they hope they are making a difference for. “So often, we turn on the news and see negative things about a lot of the children and young adults in our area. I want to encourage our neighbors to get to know your neighbors and the neighbor children around you. They are phenomenal kids with great minds, beautiful hearts and very creative ideas with so much to offer to our community.”

Red Door’s students and their mentors have designed and professionally printed Christmas cards and are selling them for $15 for a pack of 8. Contact Hardin to purchase a set and support Red Door Tutoring.