FrankTown Open Hearts Executive Director Chris Barnhill Discusses His Organization’s Work To Help Underprivileged Children Become Productive Citizens

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Live from Music Row Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –  host Leahy welcomed FrankTown Open Hearts Executive Director Chris Barnhill to the studio.

During the third hour, Barnhill described FrankTown Open Hearts as a ministry dedicated to offering less fortunate kids in Franklin, Tennessee exposure to jobs and experiences that they normally wouldn’t get.

Leahy: Carol Swain in the studio with us and we are joined now in the studio with our good friend whom I’ve known for over 30 years, Chris Barnhill. He is the executive director of FrankTown.  Welcome, Chris.

Barnhill: A pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Leahy: Carol was saying, somebody, has known you for 30 years and is willing to sit and talk to you?

Barnhill: But we were in preschool back then.

(Laughter)

Leahy: We attended church together at Woodland Church of Christ and then also attended church together at Fourth Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin, Tennessee. I guess Chris that’s how you got involved with FrankTown. Tell us, what is FrankTown?

Barnhill: FrankTown is an organization of faith-based ministry that works with at-risk and impoverished children living in Franklin. Every day after school and all day long during the summer months we work with these wonderful kids basically trying to give them the educational and vocational training needed for lack of a better phrase, get them caught up to what some of their peers in more affluent communities get. We try to give them the same opportunities, exposures, experiences and training. We try to level the playing field a little bit.

Swain: I think that’s wonderful and I’m going to say to you what I would say to anyone involved in a church ministry these days. One of the things that our children are not getting sometimes is the tools to be able to evaluate what’s happening in the culture. And if I were doing a program for children I would make sure that they understood the Constitution.

That they had some civic knowledge about government and what it means to be a citizen. I think that because the schools are not doing it that if you want people that can be change agents for our society they need to know about Christ. They need to know about what the political left is doing. But they also need to know about our government and about America and its history.

Barnhill: Valid. Very valid points. We do some civic training but admittingly our focus is more on the basic educational reading and school type academics. But also in exposures to vocations and jobs and job skills training.

Leahy: Really? Very interesting. What kind of job skills do the kids get there?

Barnhill: Oh goodness. We have over 30 programs never going on at the same time of course. But just a few examples, we have a young man that when I first started working there about four and half years ago I was driving around in my car and there were a bunch of help wanted signs in a lot of these storefronts and he was saying how he wanted a job.

And I said what do you want to do? And his options were maybe I could get a job at Kroger or maybe at Zaxby’s. Nothing wrong with that. But now what kind of skills or vocation, what do you love doing? How did God create you? What do you like to do? I don’t know. I haven’t done anything. Almost like all of our families they live in rental homes whether it be through Franklin Housing Authority or whatever. Homeownership is almost non-existent.

Leahy: Among the kids that go there their families are virtually no homeowners? Is that what you are saying?

Barnhill: We probably out of all of our families one or two homeowners. Everybody rents.

Leahy: How many families would you say that you serve in Franklin?

Barnhill: We work with about 170 kids. Again, never at the same time. I got to preface that. Never at the same time. School-aged, first grade, and all the way through high school. But how is this young man going to know whether he loves working with his hands or tools if he doesn’t have any?

There was a help wanted sign at an automotive place. His family does not own a car. He’s never looked under the hood of a car. Why would he aspire to be a mechanic? Or a woodworking place like Franklin Kitchen Cabinet Center. How would he know whether he loved working with lumber, making cabinets, or creating? How would he know that? Or doing landscaping. Or working on computers. Or doing 3-D printing or robotics. How would he know about computers if he doesn’t own one?

So not only do we teach the skill we give them exposures to lack of a better phrase of a buffet of all these different experiences and job opportunities. All these different trades etc. so he or she can determine, what do I like doing? What am I good at?

Swain: How do you do that?

Barnhill: In elementary school, our program is like a lot of after school programs. There is nothing wrong with that. Reading and tutoring and recreation and gymnastics and computer classes etc. Where we really differentiate ourselves from others are in middle school when we start putting them through the buffet. They will learn the basics of automotive just so they’ll know how to change a flat, check the oil pressure, and general maintenance of a car.

Swain: Where do they do that? And then my other question has to do with do you teach drivers ed? And the reason I ask that is that I come from a family of poverty. And I have nieces and nephews and I find that many of them they have if they graduated from high school they still don’t know how to drive. And so they are still catching the bus. So I think that drivers ed is very important as well as being exposed to other things.

Barnhill: Excellent question and I couldn’t agree more. Yes, we do have drivers ed but we are also an agency that is very collaborative. We work with other agencies whether it be the 4H or the library or a driving academy so that when our kids turn 16 or 15 even we put them through a driver’s ed class.

Swain: That’s wonderful.

Barnhill: We don’t necessarily teach it ourselves but we pay for it and make sure it is taught. Not only that, but we also put them through our class teaching them about the basic maintenance and how to care for a car whether their family owns one or not because one day they will. Then we are also in partnership with an organization in its infancy called The Public that is teaching these young men, if you do get pulled over by a police officer how do you respond?

Swain: That’s great.

Barnhill: What do you say? Where are your hands? How do you comport yourself in this stressful situation?

Swain: So you are teaching them respect for authority?

Barnhill: Respect for authority and awareness. Because you could be the most wonderfully Godly young man and a leader in your church youth group and taught a devotional the night before but when you get pulled over you need to be aware of your situation and the culture around you and comport yourself in a way that avoids trouble before it gets started.

Swain: How do you handle Black Lives Matter and the messages that are coming from the Left because there has been a lot of pressure on everyone, white, Black, and everyone to participate in protests? So your children would be exposed to all of that.

I would say that most of what they get is based on lies. There is a lie based narrative. There is also a narrative of systemic racism that the society is so stacked against you that it doesn’t matter what you do. The color of your skin determines outcomes. We know that’s a lie. And so how do you address the reality of what they are going to be taught and encounter?

Barnhill: We do not teach Black Lives Matter but from their infancy when they first come to us all the way through graduation we teach them that All Lives Matter. We are all precious. We are all loved. We are all cared for by our maker.

And that again to comport yourself rather than by your skin color but rather let no man look down on you because of your youth. That you are to act and behave and set an example whether you are six or 16 so that all people that will look at you and say now that’s a fine young woman and that’s a wonderful young man.

Swain: Now I know you don’t teach Black Lives Matter but what I’m thinking is that our culture and the news and everything that’s pushing it. Your program sounds wonderful and I’m excited about it. But our kids really need critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking. Not critical race but critical thinking. And they need to know about our nation and civic responsibilities. And I think that if they get that they are really going to be able to be those productive citizens we need.

Barnhill: I truly agree. And I appreciate this opportunity to tell you about this ministry. It’s great to be here.

Leahy: Visit FrankTown Open Hearts on the web at Franktownopenhearts.com.

Listen to the full third hour here:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “FrankTown Open Hearts Program” by FrankTown Open Hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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