Tutors are sought to help girls from low-income families grow in academics, virtue

Girls taking part in the two-week PAVE Summer Camp at the rural home of Dr. Steve and Kate Smart pose on a tractor. The camp blended outdoor fun with lessons on citizenship, art, math, literature, and cooking as well as faith and virtues. PAVE stands for Pursuing Academic and Virtue Excellence. (Provided photo)

With no budget but a love for children from low income families, Kate Smart and a few friends are trying to PAVE the way for a miracle.

They seek to duplicate in Peoria the success of a Catholic tutoring program in the heart of Chicago’s inner city that since 2000 boasts 100 percent high school graduation and college admission for all girls who complete it.

Kate Smart, left, and tutor Chris Holmes are pictured with a van bearing the PAVE logo. The new tutoring program for children from low income families is seeking to add volunteers. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“That’s a miracle,” said Smart, a member of St. Bernard Parish in Peoria. She learned about the Chicago program — called the Metro Achievement Center — when three of her daughters worked for Opus Dei in the summer of 2016. Metro is among the social initiatives of Opus Dei, a Catholic organization that seeks to re-establish Christian ideals in society.

Last fall, Smart brought the tutoring program to Peoria under a new name, PAVE — Pursuing Academic and Virtue Excellence. Her husband, Dr. Steve Smart, came up with acronym, but the rest of the program mirrors the successful Chicago effort.

“I took all of their materials — permission forms, activity forms, schedule of virtues,” said Kate Smart. “They were so generous, and I’m really grateful.”


During the school year, PAVE offers one-on-one tutoring on Monday nights for two hours at Sophia’s Kitchen, the food distribution center near St. Joseph Church south of downtown Peoria. Last year the program was offered for girls in grades 4 and 5. This fall it expands to girls in grade 6.

Most evenings begin with a half-hour talk on a virtue — friendship, loyalty, courage, moderation, modesty, etc. — though one night per month the opening talk is on faith. The students and their individual tutor then set goals to implement the virtue and work on school homework. If the student has no homework, the tutor may give an assignment.

PAVE began modestly, with just four girls. A 10-day summer camp at the Smarts’ rural home — known as the Mount Carmel Farm — drew 17 girls and introduced PAVE to new families.

“The scope is so huge,” said Kate Smart, pointing out the poverty and challenges that exist in the city.

“There are two worlds in Peoria,” she said. “It’s not all the same.”

The children of many inner city homes “experience very difficult situations in their lives and need an anchor for their souls to grasp a better way to live (than) the suffering they see daily.”


PAVE recognizes the primary role of parents in educating their children and requires their involvement, including transporting the child to and from Sophia’s Kitchen every Monday and meeting with the tutor for a few minutes. The other key to its success is combining the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

PAVE summer camp participants make friends with a fawn. (Provided photo)

“While helping students with schoolwork and teaching virtue are wonderful human aspirations,” said Kate Smart, “without offering an understanding of the love of Christ the girls would not be given an opporutinty to have a relationship with Christ which brings his peace, joy, and mercy.”

Parents are given an opportunity for their child to opt out of the monthly faith talk — often given by a priest or a Sister — but none have.

Kate Smart recruited the first students by visiting public schools, speaking with community leaders, and calling pastors.

Now she is also recruiting volunteer tutors. The first year — including the summer camp — was covered by women known to the Smarts, including neighbors who have homeschooled for years.

But because the tutoring is one-on-one, she anticipates a greater need this fall. All that is required is “a heart for children” and meeting the Diocese of Peoria’s safe environment requirements for volunteers. More information on tutoring is available at PAVEPeoria.com.

The students aren’t the only ones who learn.


“I think the best way to grow in your faith is to give it away,” said Kate Smart. The students, she added, “will challenge you with their depth of soul, purity of heart, and ability to see hope in all things.”

Asked why she took on this challenge after raising four biological and four adopted children — two from Ethiopia and two from the Philippines — she gave a simple answer.

“Years ago I read Matthew 25,” said Kate, recalling the Gospel parable of the sheep and the goats that includes God telling those gaining heaven “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

“I asked God to show me how I could do all those things,” said Kate, who has been active in the St. Vincent de Paul Society as well as pro-life initiatives.

PAVE is another way, and she has a promise for those willing to give one evening a week to it.

“Every night I go home filled with awe at the amazing wisdom God has granted these girls,” she said. “I love them all, and if you join me in God’s mission, you will love them, too.”


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