By Mike McClure

Like many things, COVID-19 put a damper on last year’s Ark Educational Resource Center awards ceremony. This year the organization celebrated its 2020 and 2021 award winners with a ceremony in Janosik Park on June 19, titled “Real Heroes Don’t Wear Capes”.

Board Chair Claudy Joinville joined ARK in October 2003, the same year he came to the United States. At the time he did not speak English. In 2012, he was asked to become the organization’s chair.

Shown, second from left, is 2021 ARK Tutor of the Year Beverly Giles. The Seventh Annual ARK Educational Center awards ceremony took place recently in Janosik Park in Laurel. Photo by Mike McClure

“Mrs. Sessoms is a testament for people willing to put their lives on hold,” he said of ARK Director Joyce Sessoms. “She’s dedicated to making the lives of young people better.”

Volunteers logged over 100,000 hours to help children through ARK. According to Sessoms, the program has a 90 percent success rate.

“It’s the whole student we care about,” said Sessoms. “We believe there’s a bright spot in every child. We don’t stop until we find that bright spot.”

Tasha Marie Stevens, a defense lawyer and partner at Fuqua, Willard, Stevens, and Schab was the keynote speaker. Stevens grew up in Ellendale and graduated from Milford High, Virginia State University, and Howard University School of Law.

Stevens and her sister were raised by her single mother. Her father died when she was 16. 

“I had a community of folks that loved me,” she said. “I didn’t know I was poor until I was older and saw what other people had.”

She told the audience that while education is important, you also have to make your name great. “Be honored because you have character,” said Stevens. “Education is a wonderful thing because you have to be prepared. Once you get in those positions, you have to have character.”

Stevens also said that it is important to invest in children. “They (community) loved me when they didn’t know that it would pay off,” she said. “What they gave me, I owe it to somebody else.”

“You are amazing. You are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God,” Stevens told the students. “There’s nothing you can’t accomplish if you remember who you are.”

To the volunteers she said, “What you are doing is not insignificant, it’s not small.”

Stevens’ mother died nine years ago at the age of 54. “There is something about knowing that someone is there for you all the time,” said Stevens. “At that moment I had to decide who I was going to be.”

At the end of her speech, Stevens announced that she and her husband were making a contribution to ARK for another scholarship.

Among the awards presented during the ceremony were: 2020 Student of the Year- Mikayla Price; 2021 Student of the Year- Aniya Green; 2020 Tutor of the Year- Janet Walker; 2021 Tutor of the Year- Beverly Giles