By Chris Edwards
WOODVILLE – Eric Prater is a man who believes in serving the community.
The soft-spoken, friendly pastor of Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Woodville is almost the dictionary definition of “mellow” when one meets him, but he is passionate about serving his community and ministering to the youth through a new after-school program.
“Me and my wife are all about service,” Prater said. Eric and his wife Aretha share a vision of community involvement in their ministerial work, and stress a nurturing environment for children, which includes helping facilitate socialization, physical activity, and above all, helping with their education.
The program began in early August and is open to children aged 4-18. Eric said that when children who participate come to Pleasant Hill for the after-school program, they get a hot, nutritious meal and are able to get a variety of life lessons, as well as some fun in.
“We like to see them get off their phones and go and play,” Eric said.
Aretha agreed that the program offers much more than a means to watch the children after-school. “We’re not just here willing to feed them. We also want to help with their education, as well,” she said.
The Praters are operating their after-school programs, which are also serving the communities of Livingston, San Augustine and Coldspring, through the non-profit organization, Building Hope Foundation.
Eric has pastored at Pleasant Hill for about a year, and he said that in that time, he has seen a great increase within the congregation. He said when he first arrived, the church had 12 members, and now has 60-65 regular worshipers. He attributes the growth to the church’s commitment to serving the community.
Eric, a Dayton native, has served in ministry for 37 years, since the age of 19, and Aretha has been involved in music ministry as a pianist for more than 40 years.
“We want to give back to whatever community we are in and serving,” Aretha said, as to the impetus for bringing the after-school program to Woodville.
The program runs Monday through Friday, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day, and includes opportunities of enrichment for life skills; academics; fitness; arts and crafts and games. Aretha said volunteers are welcome, and anyone interested can fill out a form through the Building Hope website, located at buildinghopetx.org, or by calling her or Eric. The organization’s website is also set up to take donations via the site.
Eric said that goals for the program and Pleasant Hill include construction of a life center next door to the church, which will include a gym.
Anyone interested in the program, or volunteering, can contact Eric at 832-797-7038 or Aretha at 713-494-5748.