Advocate photo by C.J. FUTCH -- Volunteer tutor Shawn Williams discusses a homework assignment with second-grader Tommy McElveen at the Gardere Initiative’s new tutoring facilitiy on Ned Avenue, called The Learning Center. The Gardere Initiative expanded its current headquarters when it signed a lease on the apartment upstairs from its current headquarters.

Ray Brian Nettles, 14, wants to go to college and study engineering when he graduates from McKinley High, where he started this year as a freshman.

While his favorite subject is biology, he’s not such a fan of science. It doesn’t come as naturally to him, he said Monday while he waited for his tutoring session to begin at The Learning Center, the Gardere Initiative’s new tutoring center on Ned Avenue.

Gardere Initiative Executive Director Murelle Harrison hopes to give students like Nettles more reasons to enjoy the subjects they don’t already like.

Nettles and Eddie Lopez, 12, who wants to be a police officer, will be working with the Gardere Initiative’s volunteer tutoring staff for as long as they’d like extra help, said Harrison.

It’s the second year they’ve operated the after-school tutoring program, she said, and the first year in the new learning center, directly upstairs from the Gardere Initiative’s main office on Ned Avenue.

The Gardere Initiative doubled its size as of two weeks ago, when the organization took possession of the space, Harrison said.

“The first year, we had all ages in one room at the same time, but we decided to restructure,” she said.

First, they added more volunteers, she said, and then opted to replace the group sessions with shorter, 30-minute individual sessions. “Some students get two sessions a week, some up to four, depending on that individual child’s need,” she said. And the need isn’t always limited to just academics.

That’s what sets their program apart, Harrison said.

“We get information on everything — do they have any toothaches? Stomachaches? Headaches?” she said, all of which could indicate issues that could interfere with the learning process.

“We have good relationships with many of the resources available to help people in this area, and we try to act as an intermediary between those organizations and the families,” she said.

Volunteer tutor Brian Holden, a graduate student studying electrical engineering at LSU, started this semester working with high school students in math.

He wanted to give back to the community, he said, and he doesn’t like the less-than-flattering talk he hears about East Baton Rouge schools. Holden said he got a great education at McKinley High, and wanted to do whatever he could to help other students reach their academic goals.

“We can’t put all the burden on teachers,” he said. “We have a responsibility to help where we can,” he said.

And this kind of help, Harrison said, doesn’t lift just the Gardere community — it benefits the whole city.

In addition to the new learning center, Harrison said United Healthcare donated 10 laptops that will be used in the center.

The tutoring program needs more volunteer tutors for all subjects, Harrison said, but particularly math and science tutors.

Tutors may volunteer for 30-minute slots from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., she said, and the center is also taking applications for students who would like to be tutored.

For more information, call the Gardere Initiative offices at (225) 769-0305, or visit its website,