Cully Prat and Mark Lillis sat down with Billy Hallowell for the PureFlix podcast where they shared how they are working to change the hearts of man in order to turn communities around.
Mark Lillis is the founder of The Leaven, a mentorship and learning center that works to help kids in “high density, high crime neighborhoods” have better lives. The learning centers are intentionally placed in the middle of struggling neighborhoods and they work to provide kindergarteners through fifth graders with a safe and productive place to spend their time after school and during the summers.
Lillis said, “We established a tutoring center within the neighborhood and it's kindergarten through fifth grade because we were told by the Department of Education that, at the third-grade level, if a child is behind, there's a high, high probability that they will be dropping out of high school.”
At the centers, kids are not only studying their school curriculum, but they are also being taught life skills such as healthy eating, active living and college preparedness, and being given the chance to meet and develop relationships with first responders.
Pratt, who has worked in law enforcement for some 16 years, said this is the best program he knows of that allows him to develop relationships with at-risk kids. Pratt told Hallowell, “This is one of the best programs that I’ve seen to where [police] departments [are] involved, fire departments are involved and leaders of the community are involved.
The faith-based organization was created in 2009 during the great recession and Lillis says it was the product of the whole community rallying together for change. The Leaven partners with local governments, law enforcement, school systems and churches to provide a space where kids can be surrounded by positive people who will encourage them to have a better life than what they already have. Lillis noted that some kids will end up spending some 600 hours a year at one of The Leaven’s centers.
What started out as one organization in a Fairfield, California, has now grown to 19 total locations, with six more expected by the end of the year (some possibly outside of California).
Pratt said he is seeing The Leaven change lives and he is excited to have the chance to teach kids the importance of faith and giving back.
Pratt said, “I do think that by showing some of these young kids that it’s okay to give back and that it’s okay to believe in something bigger than yourself, you can get yourself to a point to where you can in turn help kids one day.”
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