From a professional standpoint, Pastor Kell starts churches. For decades, his passion for bringing religious centers to at-risk communities fueled his days and nights. But when he started a church in Northside's Gilpin Court 25 years ago, he noticed that many of the children couldn't read and weren't able to follow along with their sermons — which deeply bothered him and his wife. So, applying the knowledge gained from a Doctorate and Masters in education, respectively, they decided to switch gears. And so, the Elijah House Academy was born.
"If you look at education in America, look at where we're ranked ... it's not a pretty picture," says Pastor Kell. "Particularly, with our inner city children, we think they should have an equal opportunity at entering the middle class as anyone else. We think education is the best way to make this happen."
Elijah House Academy students are all smiles for the camera! Photo credit: Elijah House Academy
The Academy offers a faith-based education to kids in K – 12 from across the city. To attend the school, students are referred to the Academy from their churches or other community networks. And since most students live at or below the poverty line, their tuition is on a rolling scale based on the families' income levels and ability to contribute.
Today, the Elijah House Academy has around 150 students and boasts a 100-percent college acceptance rate for graduates. To provide for their education, the Academy spends around $8,000 per child, per year. Because many parents pay little to nothing for the tuition, community support is essential for helping the Academy meet its goals.
The Academy offers a full curriculum, including sports. Photo credit: Elijah House Academy
When looking ahead to the Academy's future, Pastor Kell is excited for its next stage. Last year, he passed down the school's operations to his son Jesse Kell (Head of School) and his daugher-in-law Elizabeth Kell (Director of Development). They plan to continue reaching Richmond’s poorest children, while also reaching out to other Richmond City youth whose families seek an alternative, faith-based educational option. Throughout both outreach focuses, being an urban educational "safe haven" remains at the core of its mission.
As for what the Kells will do with their time now that they've shifted their role with the Academy? Pastor Kell says his work with Richmond's at-risk youth is far from over. He's already creating a workforce program to help them. In his vision, the program offers youth who can't afford a college education an opportunity to find apprenticeships and entry-level jobs where they can develop essential skill sets to help lift them out of poverty.
Elijah House Academy's 2014 kindergarten graduates. Photo credit: Elijah House Academy
Also, Paster Kell says one of the main reasons he and his wife moved to Rocketts Landing was to be closer to their two sons who both live in neighboring Church Hill. So, spending time with family is always on the agenda.
We always love discovering the interesting ways our residents fill their days and fulfill their passions. To learn more about the school and its mission, be sure to check out the Elijah House Academy's website and Facebook page. You can also visit (and support!) them at Give Richmond's annual Amazing Raise event coming this September.