By Sarah Colson and Jeff Keeling
Third-grader Ayana Greene probably didn’t know Mitch Cox from Adam as she enjoyed playing games last Friday afternoon with staff and friends at Coalition for Kids. But if Greene is still benefiting from the fast-growing children’s ministry in a year or two, she’ll likely be studying, eating and playing in a much larger building – thanks in large part to Cox and his company.
Greene’s Friday activities occurred two days after Cox announced, during the Coalition’s annual fundraising luncheon, plans to purchase and renovate the former Tri-Cities Christian Elementary School on Susannah Street. The move will help a highly successful ministry that has tripled in size and serves about 300 children in more than a half-dozen locations.
This isn’t the first time Cox has made a major contribution to the Christian ministry, which serves about 300 kids in their after-school programs. According to Director of Human Resources Linda Wallace, Cox and Lawrence Porterfield from Pepsi Company finished paying for the building they’re using right now, located at 2308 Watauga Road in Johnson City, and then donated the building for their use two and a half years ago.
“They let it be known what their mission is,” Wallace said of Mitch Cox Companies, “and I know he’s concerned about the community. He said he wanted to give back to the community because that’s his responsibility as a Christian.”
Cox already has enlisted several partners for the effort and is seeking the advice of the National Christian Foundation and its giving advisors to determine the best organizational structure for the property. As for the Coalition program, he’s firm in his confidence that it will continue to execute its mission – one that reminds him of opportunities missing among some of his childhood peers in Johnson City.
One in particular, with whom Cox caddied at Johnson City Country Club as a youngster, had all the tools for success in adulthood. What he didn’t have was the kind of stable home that Cox, whose parents were members, did.
“I also had realized that I caddied to earn money to spend on things I wanted for myself, but the other guys earned money to help put food on the table,” Cox said. Cox’s one particular friend had joined the Army and Cox thought, “he’s going to do well in this world,” but it didn’t work out that way. He had repeated a family cycle.
“I realized right then, that we all may grow up in a free country, but we don’t all have the same opportunities,” Cox said. “Being born to loving responsible parents who not only provide food, clothing and shelter, but also and more importantly provide love, discipline, and encouragement plays a huge role in the success and development of young children, which molds them into what they will one day become.”
Years later, Cox’s life was changed by a faith transformation to a deeper Christianity, and not too many years after that he was drawn to trying to help programs that reached children in the area of the country club. But he wanted his giving to make a real difference in kids whose home situations often involved working, single moms without all the resources they needed to ensure their children’s best success. That eventually led to his long and continuing relationship with the Coalition, which began at its inception in the late 1990s.
“There was simply no safe place for the kids to go where they could receive love, discipline and encouragement…the three things so essential for children to survive and become productive and responsible,” Cox said. “This is why I became a donor.”
Now the organization has outgrown its building, having tripled in size over the past seven years. The reason for that growth, according to Assistant Director of Programming and Volunteer Coordinator Asia Fleming, is consistency and a firm programming foundation. She said most of their leadership staff has been the same for at least the past five years.
“As far as I know out of 18 years, our after-school program hasn’t changed,” she said. “The foundation has been the same since day one. Our stuff doesn’t change every year, although staff changes every year; the program is very stable as far as what it looks like.”
Fleming has been with Coalition for Kids for eight years, starting out as a tutor then being promoted to a site coordinator, then program coordinator for the evening programs, then a summer coordinator and this summer was promoted again to her current position. She believes the after-school program’s emphasis on homework first, then play, is key to the program’s success.
“They (the kids) come in and they have snack and homework time and reading time,” Fleming said. “That’s all required before they can get to the extra time or play outside or play games. The academics come first in our after-school program.”
Ayana Greene said she loves to have time to do her homework because it gives her more time for her favorite activities, playing outside and in the gym.
“We play games and learn about God,” she said.
Greene is in the after-school program every day and stays later for Coalition’s evening program, then leaves the site around 7:30 p.m., thanks to Coalition’s CDL certified bus drivers. If Greene wasn’t at the program, her older brother and sister would be the ones helping her with her homework after school.
Fleming said the new 30,000-square-foot building will allow them to serve even more Johnson City kids in this way.
“We’re really looking forward to having more space,” she said. “Where we’re at right now, we only have one after-school program here in this building. We have programs in churches and housing authorities in Johnson City and in different people’s facilities and that’s an unsure, unsteady, ever-changing world to live in. We’ll be able to serve more kids in our evening program that’s bursting at the seams right now.”
The children Coalition for Kids hopes to reach through expanding their programs to the new site are the kids Cox and his company are concerned about reaching as well.
“He (Cox) doesn’t just give money,” Wallace said,” but he helps make our decisions. He gives money but he said it was just time for him to do something bigger than just give financially. He wanted to do something that made a bigger impact and then he just started looking for a building. . . He believes if you give people opportunities, they’re going to succeed. He wants to create those opportunities. They’re definitely living the principles of Christ.”