Grace Church of Lake Highlands is planning a community party at Flag Pole Hill this month to welcome new members and invite others to join them. The church plant from Highland Park Presbyterian made a home in the Stults Road neighborhood in January of 2021.

Grace Church members share their new digs with Youth Believing in Change, a nonprofit which provides educational support to underserved students over the summer and after school. Church members jumped in quickly, volunteering to read with YBC children to bolster their confidence and encourage their progress.

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“I’m a retired military guy, and I believe in giving back,” says Kevin Brown, explaining why he enjoys sitting down an hour each week for the Reading Buddies project. Brown and his wife moved from Louisville, Kentucky to Lake Highlands in March – farther from two grandsons in Chicago but closer to one here in Dallas. “I think it makes a difference in the lives of these kids. I hope it does.”

“It’s amazing, because their abilities are across the board,” continues Brown. “Some kids can’t read at all, but the boy I had last week could read very well, and he was just five. It really feels good to help.”

One month before the pandemic shut down the world, pastoral resident John Turner moved from Boston to Dallas to help facilitate the launch of Grace Church with pastor Charlie Dunn. Their team initially was looking to worship at Lake Highlands Junior High, but schools closed up tight after COVID-19 hit. Access to YBC, Turner says, was “a God thing.”

“We love the idea of being in this part of Lake Highlands. We love the idea of being in a space where YBC has operated for 25 years. Their kids and families are very diverse, and Stults Road Elementary is right down the street. It feels like our mission is right where we are worshipping.”

The reading program will continue when school begins in the fall, along with an afterschool project to provide homework help.

“It’s accessible for volunteers, so you’re getting that time with the kids,” Turner says.

Sue Standlee and her husband, Tom, live in nearby Presbyterian Village North. Sue is a retired first grade teacher who sometimes taught deaf and dyslexic students.

“It’s fun to see the excitement in their eyes when we read the stories,” Sue says. “They’re getting sentence structure and vocabulary, and they’re getting love and attention.”

While reading “The Saggy, Baggy Elephant” with a girl this summer, Sue wobbled her own arms – now more floppy than firm – in demonstration. The girl squealed with delight.

“I was hesitant at first, because I thought this was another mentoring program,” says Scott Bodell, one of the reading buddies who helped lead the church’s launch team. “When I came over here, I found out that’s not their need. They don’t need me to make these kids into better young men. They just need me to show up and be part of the community. The kids need to know that folks other than school faculty care about them. It’s pretty simple.”

Grace Church worships at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings at 8574 Stults Road. Their free community party will be held July 31 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Flag Pole Hill. Ruthie’s Grilled Cheese and Kona Ice food trucks will be on hand, along with face painting, bounce houses and live music.