High Marks for Praise Academy
Big returns for making change
Astroll through the 1400 block of Yale Avenue in the Allendale neighborhood reveals the Jewish and Italian roots of one of Shreveport’s first suburbs. The area is full of history, like the Jewish cemetery and the row houses of days gone by. Today, the neighborhood is full of so much more. It’s also full of math, science, language arts and, most importantly, hope.
In the middle of the block, at 1434 Yale Ave., sits a white house, larger than the others around it. It serves as the hub for Praise Academy at Lakeside, a school dedicated to the neighborhood’s children.
The school was birthed in 2015 by People of Praise with eight students and one goal.
“They wanted a school in the neighborhood, for the neighborhood,” said David Zimmel, one of the People of Praise missionaries who lives on the block. “Kids are the most important thing. We can’t leave any of the kids behind, so we need a school that will not let kids fall behind. And where smart kids don’t get punished for being smart.”
Praise Academy uses a homeschool curriculum and volunteers to teach the children. Zimmel said the number of students has grown by about 50 percent each year. But running a school takes more than a love for children and a curriculum. It takes money, and for that, People of Praise turned to the annual Give for Good campaign.
Give for Good is a one-day fundraising campaign through Community Foundation of North Louisiana. Emily Smith, director of marketing and communications for Community Foundation, said that in 2018, Praise Academy received $136,072 through Give for Good. In 2019, donations totaled $164,852, a 21 percent increase, for a total of $300,924 in two years.
Funds from the Give for Good campaigns are being invested in the operation of the school. Julie Bruber, director of development for Praise Academy, said that includes renovations at the main school building, as well as purchasing and renovating other homes in the neighborhood to expand the school’s capacity.
“All of this is funded by donations,” Bruber said. “Give for Good has been a huge reason why we’ve been able to grow. I know it has captured people’s imaginations. Our goal is to eventually have 10 homes, with 10 kids in each home. That would change this whole area forever.”
The missionary teachers at Praise Academy already have seen lives changed. They have seen first-graders come into the school not knowing the alphabet who learn to write their names in less than a year. They have witnessed third-graders come in two years behind and learn to read at grade level. They have seen a young girl learn to play the violin and perform on stage and even compose her own music. These are the stories, Bruber said, that inspire the generosity shown through Give for Good.
“People are generous,” she said. “And they are moved when they hear stories of the kids. They want to help. I’ve heard many people in this area say, ‘Well, there’s no hope. There’s nothing you can do.’ Until they come here. Then they say, ‘Oh, wait a minute, there are things we can do.’ It’s heart and sweat and effort and energy and love. And it works. It’s obvious that it’s working.”
People of Praise is a charismatic, interdenominational organization of missionaries and volunteers who serve in their communities. Zimmel said People of Praise has 29 adult missionaries living in the neighborhood surrounding Praise Academy. Those 29 include retired couples, young married couples and singles who work with the school, run summer camps for children, do repair and renovation projects and more for people in the neighborhood. Volunteers from across the country also come to lend their support.
People of Praise’s presence in Allendale began in the early 2000s with four young men who believed they were called to move into the neighborhood and do whatever God told them to once they arrived, Zimmel said. Praise Academy is just one example of how the effort has grown to meet the needs of the area.
“Very early on there were three high school guys, and they were talking to an 80-year-old man who lived up on Harvard,” Zimmel said. “They knocked on his door, and they asked him, ‘What does God want us to do here?’ And he just looks at them and said, ‘Well, we need a whole new city. Not just somebody who’s gonna come and leave, not just new houses for people to live in, but new schools, new businesses, new everything. We need a whole new life.’” For more information on Praise Academy, visit the website at praiselakeside.org.