On any given afternoon, the Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Wash., is abuzz with young people talking math, science or reading a good book. It’s not uncommon to find fifth graders sitting with kindergarteners, helping them with their homework. 

It’s all a part of the framework of the Prime Time Extended Learning Center, a Christian-centered outreach program launched by the church in 1982. Prime Time works with young people from a nearby elementary school incorporating science, math, engineering, art and technology along with the common core standards, cooking club, character-trait building and play time.

“Prime Time infuses the values of community, respect, balance and thinking into the intentional programming to provide expanded learning opportunities for 60 kids from the city’s north end,” said program director Gemma Stephani. “Parents pay tuition, which is kept to a minimum to cover staff, food and equipment expenses.”

Children come before and/or after school to take part in the program. Staff works hard to ensure children feel respected for their individuality and gain a sense of purpose and worth.

“They might be Methodist, Buddhist, or any of a wide variety of other spiritual or non-spiritual beliefs, but parents expect Prime Time to be like public schools—inclusive, focusing on youth development by addressing a student’s cognitive, physical, social and emotional needs while leaving their spiritual needs up to the individual families.”

Prime Time is a part of the church’s mission and is accountable to the session. Stephani participates in church staff activities. A board, comprised of parents, Stephani and elected members from the congregation, directs the day-to-day operations.

“We fulfill the mission of Immanuel with the freedom to design and implement a quality program,” Stephani said. “We have our own accountant, we build our own budget, hire our own staff, develop our own curriculum based on youth development standards, and recruit participants from the school and neighboring community.”

Participating families are happy with the results. Wendi Mello has two sons, ages five and eight, who participate in Prime Time.

“They love being a part of Prime Time. They like the freedom they have to choose what they want to do, and they feel safe and that their issues and feelings are being considered,” she said. “I deeply appreciate the culture of patience and the staff’s value of the individuality of each child.”

Jessica Malaier is the parent of a participating fifth-grader. “Prime Time finds ways for the older kids to be mentors to the younger kids and makes them feel like they are valued, appreciated and needed.”

Program leaders say Prime Time started with caring people who had a strong desire to do something for others without the need to benefit from it. Their goal is to keep providing this service as long as there is a need and a passion for it.

“We are extremely fortunate to continue to have both our wonderful space and the resources with which to operate a high-quality program for the children and families we serve,” said Becky Wulfestieg, chair of the board. “Prime Time’s invaluable partnership with Immanuel Presbyterian Church allows all of us to take pride in our secular program that is caring, supportive, nurturing, educational and joyous, without actually being a church school.”