NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Lunch period discussions get deep for students in the CiViL program at John Overton High School. Pizza, with a side of life lessons.
“CiViL is all about building the character, the values and the leadership skills we need for success in life,” Melony-Pugh Weber said.
Pugh-Weber and her husband Jim started the CiViL program in just one school in 2004 and it’s now active on six Metro Nashville School Campuses and at Rocketown, a community youth center.
“A mentor is not someone who just imparts knowledge into another person, but someone who comes alongside of them in relationship,” Pugh-Weber said. “That’s one thing we’ve sought to do with with kids. I needed more of those people like that in my life, honestly, when I was their age. I got to this point, realizing I want to become that person I needed when I was that age.”
Students in the CiViL program meet in small groups weekly and get out to experience nature, the fine arts and visit college campuses. They also have service learning opportunities, such as helping flood victims in middle Tennessee. Melony and Jim also took students on five trips to help rebuild areas of the Gulf Coast ravaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
“These young people are now in their 30s, but they go back and say ‘that was the difference in my life. That’s when I decided I want a future, and I could see it from here, and how important it was helping other people and hearing their stories’,” Pugh-Weber recounted.
“I definitely have helped many more people. I think that’s helped me, especially with community service,” Lauren Swett said. “Being able to help I feel like a better person.”
The CiViL program has been transformational for Swett, a senior at Hillsboro High School who said Melony has helped her through some tough times.
“She’s helping us feel safe,” Swett said. “We always have a safe space to come talk to her. If we need anything, I know I could call Ms. Weber.”
The CiViL program was born out of Melony and Jim’s organization, Touchstone Youth Resource Services. It started as just free concerts, Jim, a musician, would play for kids in group homes and juvenile detention centers. Until in 1987, a friend suggested they create a non-profit. Their volunteer mission work has taken them around the world.
“The mission of Touchstone is to inspire change in the world by helping teens envision a hopeful future, embrace positive options, because there’s a lot of them out there, and engage in real steps towards a better life,” Pugh-Weber said.
Pugh-Weber has included her own son and daughter in her service work. She said faith has guided her family and her philanthropy.
“God writes great stories that I’m just honored to get to be a part of. I couldn’t have thought of this on my own. Never,” Pugh-Weber said. “These kids inspire me. Obviously it’s really satisfying work. It’s hard work, but I’m blessed that I get to do it. I just feel blessed. That’s it.”
Pugh-Weber recently received a certification as a Social Emotional Character Development practitioner from Rutgers University, so she can now do trainings with teachers and even in the corporate environment.