DENHAM SPRINGS —
The Rev. Leslie Akin was praying very early one morning when she had a vision of Jesus holding out a piece of his heart to her.
“I heard him say, ‘children taking care of children,’” she said, her voice thick with emotion. “What breaks my heart is the children.”
An early riser, she often goes to her church, Luke 10:27, for her morning devotions and prayer. The church, located at 536 Centerville St. NE, is near several schools, and students began joining her for prayer and donuts before school.
“I thought maybe that’s what he meant,” said Akin, but she didn’t feel completely assured.
Then a man who attends the church asked her to pick up his two young daughters, who usually get off the bus and go home to an empty house. She did and the girls did their homework at church until their dad came for them.
Awhile later, she was asked to visit the grade school’s career day, and, on a whim, asked the youngsters to raise their hands if they went home to an empty house.
“About 90 percent of them did, and you could hear an audible gasp from the teachers. They had no idea,” Akin said. “That’s how it got started.”
From that a-ha moment, the after-school tutoring grew into what is now called the LANDers After-School Program, where 27 children, grades pre-K through 8, help each other and are tutored by several adults. They get help with class work as well as life skills, or “living off the land — where the ‘Landers’ word came from,” Akin said.
Director Danielle McCants said the program is structured so the children share prayer requests, pray together and “really be a part of each others’ lives.”
They do their homework with retired teacher Beth Arguello, hear a Bible lesson, then get a Landers lesson, like working in a garden with “Farmer Frank” Akin, the pastor’s husband.
“Each child has a little plot so they can see how it all works, and when we harvest our vegetables we have a big vegetable soup,” McCants said. “They used to raise chickens, but raccoons got them. Now they raise fishing worms.”
She can see improvement, McCants said, because the ones who had low self-esteem and poor grades now have more confidence and better report cards.
“They just want someone to tell them they are loved, and they are smart,” McCants said.
Arguello, a retired fifth-grade teacher, said she appreciates that she gets to spend time with each child.
“In the classroom, you have to keep moving. But now we have the time to fill in the gaps, and we can take even a month to get them caught up,” Arguello said. “That one-on-one is fantastic.”
Young Artists’ Academy
Last spring, Akin said, she received another holy inspiration through her prayer time — the idea for the Young Artists’ Academy, a Saturday morning music-arts program.
Livingston Parish and Denham Springs has historically been a racially divided community, Akin said, so she asked former Mayor Jimmy Durbin, who attends the church, what would one problem, if solved, would change the city for the better. “He prayed about it and said it would be racism,” Akin said. “A lot of people think things are so much better now, but the reality is, it is still divided. So this is beautiful, because everyone is together.”
The Young Artists’ Academy and the LANDers Program are overseen by Psalm 37:3, a nonprofit, 501C3 racially mixed group Psalms 37:3 says “Trust in the Lord and do good…”
The Artists’ Academy began in late September with classes in piano, guitar, drums, voice, dance, art (various forms) and drama. All of the classes are taught by volunteers who are proficient in their subject.
While there’s no fee, they aren’t free.
“This is set up on a bartering system,” Akin explained. “In order for their children to participate in the free classes, the parents have to agree to attend the cooking classes or the parenting classes or the finance classes. And they do it, and it’s wonderful!”
On one Saturday, dance instructor Meg Walker and a dozen girls and several boys in the foyer practicing a routine they’ll perform at the upcoming Christmas in the Village events.
Inside the sanctuary, several children were playing electronic keyboards with instructors Alejandro Arguello and Michael Rheams, and in a small side room, Arguello was giving 13-year-old Kendra Riley a piano lesson.
“She’s practicing her scales,” Arguello said. “She’s doing amazing.”
Riley had no comment — she was concentrating on the keyboard.
In an upstairs Sunday school room, some adults were learning about money.
Next door, in a house that’s the church office, women were cooking carrot soufflé, honey-roasted beets, and mustard- and cumin-roasted chicken with chef Justin Jett.
“I think it’s a great program the way they help us and offer the things that they do,” said Jessica Moore, mother of three girls who were taking piano, dance, choir and art. “They (girls) get up every Saturday morning ready to come here!”
“Most of the meals are budget friendly and are under $25,” added LaQue Dooch, who has three sons in the classes.
Later, several dozen children gathered in the sanctuary for Gospel Choir. Conducted by Gladier Dalton and accompanied by Rheams, they’ll also perform at the Christmas events.
“It’s a good impact on the kids. It makes them focus,” Rheams said. “That’s what is so important about music — pitch, tone, quality, accuracy, memory of words and notes — and you have to be disciplined enough to stand there and remember it. But we’re free enough that they can have fun, too.”
Out in the lobby, the dancing was finished and artist and potter Kevin Paninski was helping some of the youngsters form simple “pinch pots,” or bowls of clay, then paint them with glaze. He’ll fire them in his kiln.
“They love to work with their hands being creative,” Paninski said. “It’s a way they can express themselves and forget about the rest of the world and concentrate on their art.”
Paninski said he feels you need to share God’s blessings.
“I believe it’s very important to pay it forward,” he said.
Angel Forbes, 13, was glazing the pot she made last week.
“It’s fun,” she said. “It gives me something to do.”
‘A community of faith’
The church, founded in 2000, has about 250 members, Akin said, with an average attendance of about 130 each Sunday.
The daughter of a Methodist pastor, Akin was the former senior pastor at First Methodist in Denham Springs when she was called in 2000 to start Luke 10:27, “A Community of Faith.”
The church is based on the command of Jesus to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Luke 10:27 is a trans-denominational church that was born out of the Methodist Church,” Akin said. “Our foundation is Wesleyan, but we believe that we are called to help tear down walls between denominations by embracing the best from each stream of Christianity. In other words, the focus on social justice from the Methodist Church, the primacy of the Scriptures from the Baptist Church, the sacraments from the Catholic Church, and so on.”
“Our bottom line commitment is to be a people always learning to love God, with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves,” Akin said. “People here are very accepting of one another. They are very accepting of different and embracing of different.”
ä ON THE Internet: