Serving Students in East Lake

Seven years ago, East Lake Initiative took our first step into serving the East Lake community.

A small group of volunteers met with Wanda Birchfield, Principal of Barrett Elementary School, to ask how they might be able to help. What did the school need? Where could she use them the most?

“We felt like the school was the epicenter, the heartbeat of the community,” Pam Bates, East Lake Initiative’s (ELI) Executive Director, explains.

Initially, ELI’s volunteers helped with special projects and story-reading, but after a year, the team was invited into classrooms to tutor students. For the last five years, ELI has been privileged to have a tutor in every Barrett Elementary classroom, helping eager students take their learning to the next level.


Our dedicated team of 20 tutors seeks to support the hard work of teachers and build good relationships with both students and staff.

“We are servants,” tutor Martha Knight says. “We’re here to serve.”

Serving and empowering is ELI’s mission and vision. Through strategic partnerships and holistic community development, we hope to see generational change. We believe East Lake has the people and the resources for change, and we want to connect people to opportunities to use those resources.

For the tutoring program at Barrett, students are the resources for change. Tutors have seen students move on to middle school and high school, maintaining mentoring relationships with many of them. That personal connection is the lifeblood of the program.

According to Martha, “What matters is that they see that we’re genuine, and we love, and we care."

Our group of tutors has enjoyed being a part of the growth of Barrett as a school, seeing it come off the failing schools list, improve in standardized test scores, and win an award for having the 3rd most volunteer hours in a Birmingham city school.

But what Martha has seen is a change in the students. She says they’re eager and excited and they greet all the tutors when they pass in the hall.  These positive relationships are the heart of ELI, as the organization desires for every child to have a tutor or mentor speaking into their lives and showing that they care.

“There can never be too many people loving your child,” Pam says.

Martha Knight where you are most likely to find her - in the halls of Barrett Elementary.

Martha Knight where you are most likely to find her - in the halls of Barrett Elementary.

ELI’s tutoring program owes much of its success and longevity to Martha Knight’s hard work and dedication.

According to Pam, “Without her, we wouldn’t be anywhere.”

More than a tutor, Martha organizes and directs the group of twenty tutors and works with Principal Birchfield to make sure that they are always serving the best interest of the students. With over 30 years of experience in elementary education, Martha leads as an example of compassion and humility.

Martha dreams of having more tutors on her team and being able to provide each classroom with 2-3 tutors instead of just one. She encourages those not already involved to give it a try, emphasizing that you don’t need a background in education.

“There’s no shame in trying it and not doing it. We’ve had people do that. You’re not going to know until you try it.”

East Lake Initiative loves to plug people into opportunities that match their gifting and skills. If you think you would like to learn more about how to be a tutor or mentor, or about ELI’s other volunteer opportunities, you can contact us. We would love to hear from you!

Pam explains that you don’t need any special skills to make a difference. It’s more about being willing to care where it matters most.

“Our hope is in the future of these children.”

Helping Students