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Mary Walker Foundation hosts Work-based Learning Literacy Camp

Chattanooga Foundation fights poverty through literacy at Camp REACH

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Maximizing the time of summer, Chattanooga’s Mary Walker Foundation begins its unique literacy camp serving 50 students Monday, June 6 through July 15 employing a phonics-based work-based learning environment. Students completing assignments will receive financial compensation, be schooled in literacy of both language and finances in a faith-based camp requiring parental participation. 


“Kids will keep learning if the right structure is in place – family, effective content and fun,” noted Lurone Jennings, the Executive Director of the Mary Walker Foundation and longtime fixture in service to at-risk youth in Chattanooga. “The Mary Walker Foundation’s mission to provide the best economic opportunities for all through literacy and education is in full force in this summer camp.” 


Camp REACH applications were taken through the middle of May with 50 ninth through twelfth graders selected from over 100 applicants based on their commitment to complete daily assignments, have engaged parents and family and remain part of the literacy program through the Mary Walker Foundation. The camp – founded on Respect, Earn, Achieve, Citizenship and Hard Work – is a Monday through Thursday event featuring instruction in leadership skills, basic life and work skills, vocational skills (house painting), music and art, journalism, and transportation logistics through a partnership with Network Transport in East Brainerd. Students who complete weekly assignments and work-based curriculum will be paid a $150 per week stipend. Each participant will complete financial literacy training with their own account for savings and spending by the camp’s completion. 


“Addressing reading and language skills through a work-for-rewards-based process does more than a tutoring session and assists in preventing a gap between the school years,” observed Mary Walker Foundation Executive Administrator Elizabeth Tallman. “Students are given individualized instruction and rewards for their successes to support the efforts of our parents and teachers to accelerate our students’ academic attainment.” 2 Camp REACH is made possible from the generous supporters of the Mary Walker Foundation. The Foundation was established in 1970 in honor of its namesake, Mary Walker, by Rev. John Lloyd Edwards, Jr., father of Chattanooga News Chronicle founder and President John L. Edwards III. Its mission is to help alleviate poverty for all Chattanooga citizens and help create economic stability through literacy training and educational activities. 

But the remarkable story of Mary Walker is known to far too few considering the amazing feat of a woman born in 1848 and died in 1969. 


Born In 1848 In Union Springs, Alabama, and enslaved until she was 15 years old when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Mary Walker worked in a variety of service jobs and raised her family of three children. Her husband and family moved to Chattanooga in 1917 when Mary was 69 years young. Staying busy with work and church service, she had lost her children and husband to death by the time she was 114 years old. Mary enrolled, at the tender age of 115, as a student in a yearlong program, Chattanooga Area Literacy Movement (CALM), learning to read, write, do addition and subtraction. 


Recognized and honored locally, regionally, and nationally, Mary Walker inspired a commitment through determination and grit to grow and be better, regardless of her years and station in life. The Mary Walker Foundation exists to carry that mindset into the Chattanooga community specifically through literacy and hard work. 


“Mary Walker was recognized as ‘the Nation’s Oldest Student’ after living through 26 presidents spanning two centuries. Today, the Mary Walker Foundation exists to cultivate a commitment to lifetime learning that opens doors of opportunity for all,” Coach Jennings acknowledged. 

Learn more about the Mary Walker Foundation by visiting Any seeking to support this local endeavor may call (423) 267-2313 or make online contact at