Bella Bustamante practices her reading skills with her tutor, Marydell Atkins.

Jobs rescued amid COVID in Beaufort, South Carolina

By: Major Frank Duracher

The old maxim, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” certainly proved true at the Beaufort, South Carolina, Corps as severe restrictions due to the coronavirus staggered into the last months of 2020.

“As the start of the school year approached in September, we were faced with the dilemma of our employees with children having to leave their employment here in order to home-school their children,” said Captain Wanda Long, Beaufort corps officer.

A schoolteacher herself for some 18 years before becoming a Salvation Army officer, Captain Longwell quickly came to a solution.

“We talked it over with our staff and came to the conclusion that there wasn’t much difference if the students were learning online at home, or here at the corps building,” Captain Long said.

In fact, the concept for a temporary Salvation Army school was right up her alley, taking her back to her prior career.

“We took one room here in our corps building, and after a few trips to Dollar Tree, we made it look much like a classroom at a regular school,” complete with color-codes and nametags for each child, as well as wall decorations.

Four of the families represent a parent employed by the Army in Beaufort, and an additional family was added whose parent is stationed at the nearby Navy base. A hot lunch is provided daily, either by one of the families or by a volunteer who regularly arrives to cook for them. Even their lunch schedule matches what they normally have at school – one child eating at 11:45, and others taking lunch at noon or 12:30. Their arrival and departure times are also coordinated to the norm.

Marydell Atkins is a veteran educator since 1996. She taught school until 2012, when she decided to attend Garner Webb University’s School of Divinity to earn her master’s degree in Christian education. She continued to work as a tutor for students ranging from first grade to adults seeking their GED.

“This is a wonderful arrangement here at The Salvation Army,” Atkins said. “It allows students to receive what they would have in the virtual school setting and to have person-to-person help as they navigate their way through each day.”

Atkins not only guides each day’s assigned lessons, but if a child has a deficit, she provides additional attention.

“Ms. Atkins is a Godsend,” Captain Long said. “Once we decided to do this venture, I prayed for three days for someone and the Lord provided her.”

Jennifer Bustamante is the social service director at the corps. Providing a quality learning environment for her daughter, Bella, as well as continuing her employment has been an answer to prayer.

“This brings a whole new meaning to ‘Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” she said, chuckling.

As the corps caseworker, Bustamante often hears her clients complain that they have a job but must stay home with their child.

“It’s all about family here, so when Captain Wanda presented this idea to us, we were floored.”

The school year in the Low Country of South Carolina is now set for September 2020 to June 2021, and it is possible this corps school will continue according to how the COVID-19 crisis finally plays out – whether the first of the new year or throughout.

“During this crisis parents would be the ones at home helping their child, so there are no additional qualifications from the county or state,” Captain Long said. “It doesn’t matter if the structure is a house or an Army facility. The difference here is having a certified teacher helping them, which enhances their learning experience.

“While at the same time allowing the parents to keep putting food on the table.”