Thrive Knoxville: the kids are all right

Beth KinnaneOur Town Neighbors

The presents have been selected and wrapped, the students won’t return until January, and all is briefly quiet on the Thrive Knoxville front. But the joy and laughter from last weekend’s Thrive Christmas store will, hopefully, resonate into the new year.

Thrive is an after-school Christian ministry serving at-risk youth in the Lonsdale and Parkridge communities that also has summer and mentoring programs. Jalynn Baker, director of communications, said despite a trying year, the Christmas Store was a huge success and Thrive reached its fundraising goals – for the moment.

Jalynn Baker

“Just because momentary goals are reached doesn’t mean there isn’t an ongoing need for funding,” Baker said.

The Christmas Store is stocked with donated goods from the community so that program participants can use their good behavior points to purchase gifts for everyone in their families. Staff and volunteers help them wrap their purchases to take home for the holidays.

As with most non-profits this past year, the biggest struggle in 2020 has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual Thrive started after spring break when all KSC schools went online for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, but the need was still there to host students in person after school. Virtual and in person programs were maintained over summer. Baker said their students really need that classroom type interaction. And keeping the doors open meant taking a measured risk – a risk that has led to a few shutdowns for a couple of days and some staff having to miss extended time.

“Dealing with the sickness has been difficult,” Baker said. “We make every effort to minimize the possibility of infection, to stay healthy, to not bring sickness in the door. But we have kids from single parent homes or homes where both parents work and have to go to work. They can’t do their jobs from home.”

Thrive maintains small class sizes, with a maximum of 12 to a room. As much as is reasonable is done outside, but obviously the onset of cold weather presents a challenge, Baker said, adding that the students have been “real troopers.”

Not to worry, the Thrive students got some presents, too.

“Honestly, we’ve been so encouraged by our students this season. They’ve been resilient,” Baker said, adding that they have been great about wearing their masks without complaint.

Though they are on break for the moment, Baker said any family in the program can reach out at any time regarding any need that may arise until Thrive classes resume on Jan. 11.

“We really try to connect with parents through our Family Care Ministry,” Baker said. “Whether it’s to deliver food, catch a ride to the doctor’s appointment, whatever it is, we’ll find a way to help.”

When asked if there was anything else the program needed beyond the ever-present need for donations, Baker simply responded with “prayers” while noting their website has a link for specific prayer requests. A humble ask in a difficult year.

Go here to make a donation or find out more about Thrive Lonsdale and Thrive Parkridge.

Beth Kinnane is community editor for

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