In the fall of 2006, Pamela Bristol loaded her green Ford Aerostar with Kool-Aid, a loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly, and parked in the yard of a fellow church member of Rocky Bayou Baptist Church in Niceville to offer homework help and a Bible lesson to students.
Having previously canvassed the area with church youth group members, Bristol prayed for God to open doors, and three students showed up that first day. The three quickly grew to 10, and the following year, Bristol began picking up students from one school and shuttling them to a meeting space at Rocky Bayou Baptist Church.
This grassroots movement, focused on community outreach, became The Heights Tutoring, a thriving ministry and a safe place for students in the Niceville area to go for after-school homework help.
By the third year, The Heights, named for Habakkuk 3:19, became a 501(c)3 organization, received a donated 15-passenger van and added a second school, increasing attendance to 25. Thirteen years later, the tutoring ministry has two vans and a bus picking up students from all area elementary, middle and high schools with an attendance of more than 90 students.
“We are blessed to have a beautiful meeting facility at Rocky Bayou Baptist Church,” said Bristol, director of both the children’s ministry and The Heights Tutoring.
Additionally, the church, in Emerald Coast Baptist Association, provides financial support, assistance with insurance, paper goods, janitorial services and outreach events for the families, Bristol said.
The Heights meets twice weekly, with each day requiring six drivers/riders, two “snack ladies,” and about 35 volunteer tutors.
“One of the biggest challenges is having enough volunteers,” said Bristol. “This has been the best year ever; however, we still had to cap our numbers to keep our tutor to student ratio manageable.”
The first 30 minutes of each tutoring session is devoted to Bible study. “We address everything in and through the gospel,” Bristol explained.
Bible study for kindergartners through second graders focuses on introducing the Bible as God’s Word and the Old Testament. Third through fifth graders start in Genesis and end in the gospels. Sixth through twelfth graders are divided into two groups, those who have made professions of faith or are drawn to spiritual matters and those who are new to the study of the Bible.
For homework help, elementary students are grouped by schools and grade levels, with groups of up to three or placed one-on-one for reading practice. Middle and high school student tutoring is more specialized by subject, and there are tutors for Spanish-speaking students and family support for English as a second language.
The Heights offers biblical counseling to parents/guardians at no charge. Families are also engaged with events throughout the year including dinners, game nights, hayrides, and donations of back-to-school supplies.
The motto for The Heights is “everything in excellence” or “as unto the Lord.” Bristol believes that with the vision of Carey Dean, who served the church as worship pastor when the ministry was launched; the expertise of accountant Marybeth Wollard; much prayer; study of other similar ministries and a heart for others, those involved in establishing The Heights are helping students learn to trust the Lord and His strength to equip them to soar to the heights.