NORMAN — A visitor to a regular afternoon session at Loveworks would never know it began as a small after-school program for at-risk middle school students.
Monday through Thursday, approximately 40 students (led by volunteers) are busily crafting, creating, brainstorming, dining, studying, learning and interacting in an environment abuzz with a kind of positive energy that can only come from young people excited to be where they are.
Loveworks, Inc. is a two-year-old outreach program founded by Clark Mitchell of Journey Church in Norman, launched to give back to the community by positively reinforcing its most vulnerable population: middle school students.
“When we began, we had three big strategies,” said Loveworks Executive Director Michael Hirsch. “To help students to live into their potential, live into their dreams, and see kids break the cycle of poverty — not economic poverty, but poverty of thinking and self-image.”
Since its inception in February 2011, Loveworks has grown to encompass two campuses in Norman, with a third in preparation in Ponca City.
“We want to create unique environments for each student. Through kids talking to their friends and parents talking to each other, we’ve gained a wide range of kids. Loveworks isn’t an environment strictly for ‘at-risk’, it’s for kids potentially on their way to Harvard,” Hirsch said.
A prime example of a Loveworks beneficiary is Beth Willoughby, an eighth grader at Longfellow Middle School who began participating in Loveworks through a friend’s referral when the program was still brand new.
“I was going through a really rough time in my life and I had a friend who was coming here and told me about what it was and what they do,” Willoughby said. “I decided I wanted to come too, so my friend and I sat down with Michael (Hirsch) and I explained why I wanted to join and I’ve been here for the past 2 years.”