David Garrett never expected to open an after-school program for impoverished and underprivileged children.
Garrett grew up in Tennessee, the son of a judge, but said he spent his teens and early 20s selling drugs and acting recklessly.
He said he never expected he’d one day spend his time acting on his faith.
“I’d go to church and listen, but I didn’t get it. … It didn’t hit me until my father passed away; I reached rock bottom and was hit by the light,” he said recently. “Once I got it, I could never look back. I wanted to save the lives I’d hurt the most.”
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Garrett moved to Charlotte in 2008, where he worked as a youth pastor at Forest Hill Church’s former Mosaic Church on Albemarle Road and at Nexus Church off North Tryon.
Garrett said he appreciated the opportunity but felt limited working within a church.
“I wanted to reach the community in their everyday lives,” he said.
Garrett, his wife, Mary Catherine, and their three children acted on their faithto open the nonprofit One7, and they continue to commit all their time and money to help struggling families and children.
One7 is a faith-based organization that provides housing, mentoring, a soccer league, private girls’ academy and an after-school program for inner-city youths and families in need. The programs are privately funded by local families and churches.
One7, off Eastway Drive, is housed in an old apartment complex. The building has been painted white and a tall black fence lines the 1.12 acres. Soccer fields take up most of the green space, and gym lockers fill the corridor.
There also is graffiti on the outer walls and inner courtyard, and inspirational rap music blares from speakers on the second floor.
While the two-story multifamily dwelling doesn’t compare to some high-end complexes not far away, what goes on inside makes One7 shine. Homeless refugee families and abused and abandoned children are given a place to call home.
The home is far from ideal; Garrett, who’s also Garinger High School’s soccer coach, said he’s been shot at and had his vehicles burned by angry gang members in the area.
“We take the kids nobody wants,” he said. “We try to help families torn apart by the cycles of abuse and addiction come back together.
“What we do takes guts, compassion, patience and lots of love.”
Garrett said the facility has 16 one-bedroom housing units that have been converted into two-bedroom apartments. Most who live there don’t contribute financially because of their circumstances.
“If we see a need, we make sacrifices and do what we can to help,” Garrett said.
Next to the complex, beyond the playground, the Garretts lease a house and garage that has been converted into three classrooms. These two spaces house an after-school program for 75 elementary students from Billingsville, Merry Oaks and Briarwood.
Inside, students from kindergarten through fifth grade sit in groups, most smiling and laughing with peers as they complete homework with the help of volunteers and guided instruction from the program’s resident academic coordinator and co-director, Rebekah Goode.
Goode, who worked as a teacher at Westerly Hills Academy for 14 years, said she felt fortunate to work in the community.
Goode created One7’s after-school program, a multicultural literature-based program that focuses on increasing vocabulary, phonics and critical thinking.
During a recent session, students in kindergarten through second grade gather around Goode, chairs pulled in from separate classrooms.
Standing in the middle of this brightly decorated room filled with academic posters of the alphabet and numbers and maps of the world, Goode asks students to answer questions about a children’s picture book, “The Mitten,” based on a Ukrainian folk tale.
The students eagerly raise their hands to answer.
Emilio was the first to speak up about the story, giving a precise summary of the interactions between characters. Goode then animatedly acts out vocabulary words, using her body to emphasize the meaning of “trudging.”
Goode, who lives in Mint Hill, said, “These activities help them learn a second language through pictures … and the stories open their mind to other cultures, while also helping them to feel accepted for their differences.”
Kate Monroy, 20, co-director of the after-school program and One7’s administrator and residential staff member, said most of the students are refugees or immigrants – predominantly Montagnard, Latino, Burmese and Nepali – and come from 30 or more countries; however, some students are U.S.-born Latinos or African-Americans.
“Beyond their educational needs, this after-school program has also helped us build more relationships in the community and touch more lives,” Monroy said.