Christine Hodge with Swarsensky Award Committee Chair Mario Mendoza

Christine Hodge was honored with the Rotary Club of Madison’s 2015 Manfred Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award on November 11 at its weekly meeting at the Inn on the Park. Hodge was nominated by Dawn Crim.

Hodge came to Madison from Arkansas in 1971, a single mother with her three children. The people of the historically black Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Madison’s south side quickly embraced her and her family — a gesture that she reciprocated later in life.

Soon after arriving in Madison, Hodge — who had previously been a teacher for 7 years in Arkansas — became a teacher for the Madison Metropolitan School District where she taught for 26 years. She then served as assistant principal at Madison La Follette High School and later as principal of Allis Elementary. She served the District for 35 years before retiring. Following her retirement, and as referenced in a news story about her, Hodge “lounged around exactly zero days before throwing herself into her next project.” She took her energy and experience as an educator and administrator and founded the Mt. Zion Academic Learning Center.

The Mt. Zion Academic Learning Center is an after-school program affiliated with Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Hodge tirelessly enlisted the help of many in the community to transform what was a dark basement at Mt. Zion Church into a bright, cheerful and deserving learning space. She raised funds and recruited volunteer tutors. The Center’s program is focused on fostering academic excellence for children in grades K-6, primarily residing on Madison’s south side. Parents pay nothing; all that is asked of them is their commitment to Hodge’s program. The program runs three days a week, and about 20 students participate regularly. Volunteer tutors and mentors assist the children. Hodge tells each child her goal: “Be the smartest kid in your class.”

Christine Hodge with Rotary Club President Ellsworth Brown
Christine Hodge with Rotary Club President Ellsworth Brown

The Rotary’s Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award was established in 1982 and identifies individuals who have, through their voluntary efforts, made a particularly outstanding contribution to the humanitarian service in the greater Madison community in the tradition so well exemplified by the life of Rabbi Swarsensky.

Consistent with Rabbi Swarsensky’s example, Hodge has helped build bridges between homes and schools. She has helped parents establish effective communications and problem-solving with teachers and MMSD staff. Her contributions toward children’s academic excellence advance the cause of putting an end to the educational achievement gap in the Madison area. That gap is an obstacle to full participation in and enjoyment of life in our community. Hodge’s efforts help build a bridge toward the promise of that full participation and enjoyment — one student at a time.