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Churches: Foundation founder keeps pastor’s legacy alive
By Charles Swenson
Standing before the pulpit where her grandfather used to preach, Amber Nelson stirred up the crowd on a Saturday afternoon at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
“I want you guys to understand that you don’t have to be 50 years old. You don’t have to be 35, 75 to be what you want to be. I’m 24 years old with a full palette to do, but I knew I was capable of doing it,” she said.
More than 40 children sat in the pews, boys to her left and girls to her right. On their T-shirts: THEE iAM. It is the name of the foundation Nelson started in memory of the late Rev. Abraham Nelson and his wife Marian, the pastor and first lady of Mount Zion. The foundation will mentor children 5 to 18, helping them to define and realize their goals.
“I go to work with two notebooks,” she said, to write down her ideas for the foundation. “It’s my baby. I’ve been working on this for two years.”
THEE iAM will meet at the church the third Saturday of each month. Nelson plans to bring in speakers and take the group on field trips. She started last month by creating small groups sorted by age so they could get to know one another. One ice-breaker: tell the group something about yourself. Nelson started: “I have never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.”
She hustled from group to group to keep things moving. Maybe she missed out on the PB&J because she was too busy to eat. She works for Verizon in Columbia and is working on her master’s degree in business administration online.
Once they got comfortable, Nelson asked the kids to come to the front to tell the group what they want to be. Dentist. Athlete. Police officer. Teacher. Engineer.
“Does everyone in here know that they can do whatever they set their mind to?” she asked.
There was timid agreement.
“I’m going to ask it one more time,” Nelson said. This time there was a full-throated yes.
She shared her own story, with her parents Gary and Doris Nelson seated with some other adults in the back row. “As a child growing up, I did everything you can name. I played the piano, the violin. I’ve done every form of dance possible,” she said. She was a cheerleader at Waccamaw High. She graduated and went to S.C. State.
“I’m going to be very honest with you,” Nelson said. “I went to school. First semester, piece of cake. Got comfortable. Second semester, I didn’t exactly do what I was supposed to do. Grades were no go. I was about to be sent home.”
That was a reality check.
“I had to turn everything around, because I knew I was capable of doing what I went to school to do,” Nelson said. She graduated in 2016 with a degree in marketing.
Failure is an option, but not an end. Nelson told the kids Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job as a reporter. Walt Disney was fired for lack of creativity and Michael Jordan didn’t make the varsity basketball team his first year in high school.
It took Nelson two years to get her foundation started. “And, of course, this is just the beginning. You may get rejected, but keep going. You may hear ‘no’ a few times, but keep pushing. You will fall, but get back up and keep going,” she said.
After the first session, the children came up with a long list of things they want to do. Some want to improve their grades. Some want to learn more about Jesus and the Bible. They would also like a trip to Disney World.
“I want to inspire and motivate children. I see so much in children,” Nelson said. The foundation is a way to give back to the community and keep her grandparents’ legacy alive.
Nelson is also soliciting sponsorships. They’re coming in, but not as fast as she would like. “I have a large expectation of what I want this to be eventually – actually within the next year.”
THEE iAM will meet Saturday from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at Mount Zion. For information, email email@example.com.