Articles From the March 1995 Unification News


Alive, Well, And Growing In Bayou La Batre

by Joshua Cotter, Bayou la Batre

One of the best-kept secrets in the Unification Church is the thriving community in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. Recently, Forrest Gump helped put us on the map; but the real story is much more inspiring than a movie! Where else can you find so many blessed families, living so near to each other, with a vital, growing church program, running two successful, profitable businesses, and a church school? Sounds too good to be true? Well, add to that a warm year-round climate, a 15- minute drive to the ocean, a sportsman's paradise, a very inexpensive standard of living could go on.

It's been seventeen years since Father first established a presence here in this fishing village on the Gulf of Mexico, centering on Master Marine shipbuilding, and later, IOE shrimp processing. Many of the original brothers who came in the late 70's are still here, having weathered many a storm. They came without any knowledge or experience, just a commitment to do God's will. They learned to build great fishing vessels, became sea captains, pioneered the shrimp business, and built strong families, all in the face of impossible odds and often great persecution. Today, Master Marine forges strongly ahead, in a difficult, highly competitive industry. IOE is now the largest employer in Bayou La Batre, the largest seafood company in Alabama, and the largest producer of rock shrimp in the world!

There's a vision that guides this community, which now has 40 blessed families, and nearly 100 blessed children. That vision is to create a model community, centered on True Parents' tradition, to inspire our movement, and to restore America. It is also a commitment to raising and educating our children according to Father's standard, through a partnership between church, school, and business.

The education of our children, is a central part of our community. Top Garden School was named and officially founded by our True Parents in December of 1988, during True Parents' visit to Bayou La Batre. Prior to that time, Barbara TenWolde, Katharina Zambon, and several other sisters started a nursery for the young blessed children. As the children grew, these sisters took on the task of teaching them, pioneering and establishing a blessed children's school in the process. With each new year, a new grade was added. Barbara and Katharina researched and incorporated the best Christian and secular curricula, while maintaining the internal standard and teaching of True Parents. With a growing number of children, the school was moved to its present site, which is on 7 acres of land.

Mrs. Motoko Sugiyama (now head of WFWP Japan) was the first administrator of Top Garden, and through her love and guidance, the school reached new levels of competence and achievement. She was succeeded briefly by Josie Hauer, who now serves as registrar for Bridgeport University.

For nearly three years, I have served as principal and administrator of the school (in addition to my AFC mission), and I can honestly say that in all my 20 years in this movement, I have never been as inspired or motivated as I am now, teaching and helping our children to grow in a God-centered environment. Being able to take an active part in shaping their lives is humbling, gratifying, and life- renewing.

Above all, Top Garden School exists to instill the tradition of our True Parents in the Second Generation. On the wall above our morning service room is a banner with a picture of Simba, the Lion King, which reads, "NEVER FORGET WHO YOU ARE!" It reminds us each morning of our true identity as the children of True Parents.

Top Garden school currently has 44 students from K-4 through fourth grade. We plan to expand the grade levels next year, and open up to the outside community. We begin each morning by singing, bowing before True Parents, reciting part of the Family Pledge, then the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a morning service given by one of the teachers. After the service, each class has a half hour of Divine Principle and Bible study (including K-4 and K-5). By emphasizing these essential aspects of True Parents tradition, the children receive daily reinforcement.(Even when our school opens up to the larger community, this standard will be maintained.) The children are also required to wear school uniforms.

All of our teachers are blessed members, and we feel this is their most important qualification. Teaching is a mission (not a job), where the teacher should be "in loco parentis", giving parental love and guidance to each child, as well as encouraging excellence in all areas. Consequently, there is a close relationship between parents, teachers, and students.

The children do very well academically at Top Garden. Small classes and individual attention are certainly contributing factors to this. Top Garden graduates who go to other public and private schools are consistently at the top of their classes.

Phonics and reading are taught beginning in K-4, and reading is encouraged during school hours, with "DEAR time" (Drop Everything And Read), and at home with the parents. Last year, the school sponsored its first READ-A-THON, where the children received encouragement and financial support from friends and relatives for every book they read. The donations went toward our school library.

In addition to the basic academic subjects, the students study art, creative writing, music (including the fundamentals of music as well as instruction on various instruments), and physical education. All grades receive Korean lessons once a week from Mrs. Claire Cotter (who is Korean!).

We are very excited about connecting to Father's vision for education, as well as to His providential activities. This year, we turned our office into a computer center. IOE and Master Marine donated a brand new, state-of-the-art, multimedia computer system to the school in February. It's a wonderful learning tool for the school, for both students and teachers! Several older computers were also donated by families to the school.

Father wants us all to learn farming and fishing. We just started our garden project which will allow the children to learn about raising vegetables and fruits. We plan to give some of the harvest to needy families, and sell some to raise money for the school.

We are also developing an ocean program to allow students to learn about the ocean and other water environments through class study, field trips, and fishing trips.

In January, the whole community joined together to begin construction of our new church and school building. It will be located on the same site as the existing school. We broke ground ceremoniously on January 29th, and hope to begin the actual construction in the next few weeks. (If you would like to make a "cornerstone donation" toward this ambitious project, please let me know!)

This building will be used for church services, school classrooms, community activities, as well as our blessed children's summer camp and inter-regional second generation workshops.

Our community has so much hope for the future! We really want to inherit True Parents' Foundation. We're grateful for the leadership and support of people like Rev. Young Shik An, our Regional Director, and Mr. S.K. Park, leader of IOE.

Finally, Top Garden School needs teachers! If you are inspired, or feel called, to work in the area of educating the second generation, and you want to become a part of a growing community like ours, please call, or better yet, come and visit!

Also, if you are looking for a good place to send your children to school, where you can be sure they will be in a heavenly environment, and it won't cost you an arm and a leg (you'll probably be surprised at how low the tuition is), come to Bayou La Batre!


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