NORCROSS -- Kimberly Everett, 36, hung out with the wrong crowd and dropped out of school when she was 12. She lost her Wendy's job in 2009. But she hopes to open her own restaurant someday.
First, Everett says she needs a degree. And to get a degree, she needs a high school education. Everett found out Hopewell Baptist Church was offering free GED preparation classes.
"I tried (getting my GED diploma) one previous time, but I just gave up," Everett said. She signed up for the classes with a friend who had a diploma, but wanted to support Everett. "Now I'm here and I know I can do it."
Everett is one of 12 students enrolled in the program. The Norcross-based Hopewell Baptist Church started the adult GED classes Aug. 8 as part of its Community Resource Center. Recruiting volunteer educators and working with Gwinnett Technical College, the church offers free language arts, math and computer proficiency classes twice a week.
"We are working diligently on campus. Not just in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit but also in reading, writing and math," said senior pastor William Sheals.
The church stresses the distinction between a hand out and a hand up. Officials say by providing access to higher education, they give community members the tools to succeed on their own.
"We want to teach people how to fish for themselves, not to continue to give them fish," said Arnold Davis, an assistant pastor.
Although registration for the fall is closed, the church is accepting students, regardless of church membership, for the 14-week winter program. Although the current enrollment is small, church officials expect they can take up to 500 students. Gwinnett Technical College gives prospective students an entrance exam to assess their skills.
A case manager meets with them and works out their individual needs. According to program director Kathy Young, students range from having a first grade level education to 11th grade. Some have mental, emotional or physical health problems.
After finishing the 14-week-program, students take an assessment test. If they pass, they go on to take the GED tests. If not, they are recommended to stay in the program.
The teachers and individual tutors are retired educators and education doctoral candidates. Their challenge is working with a variety of students with different backgrounds and literacy levels. Kim Parks is an adult education doctoral candidate in Walden University. She teaches language arts for the Hopewell GED prep program.
"My strategy with adults has to be not just academics. It has to be encouraging. It has to show how this helps with what they are trying to do with the community," Parks said.
Brandy Kendrick, 21, didn't graduate because she failed the science high school graduation test. Now she works 30 hours a week while raising a baby. But she wanted to further her education and get a medical degree. So she joined the program.
"They are giving us the opportunity to get lessons in what we need to pursue our education so I'm thankful," Kendrick said.