Parent Talk discusses community engagement with Joe Murchison, Side by Side executive director. In 2004, the Laurel Clergy Association launched an initiative to help Laurel children and families by supporting the area’s Prince George’s County public schools. It paired individual schools and churches with the idea that the churches could furnish the schools with volunteers and other aid. In 2007 that initiative took on a more formal shape as a nonprofit organization, Side by Side, Inc. The group obtained tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) status in 2009
Joe Murchison was a journalist for almost three decades, the last 17 of them as editor of the Laurel Leader newspaper. After leaving journalism in 2007, he wrote a book and worked for a marketing firm. In 2009 he helped found and became executive director of Side by Side, Inc., a faith-based nonprofit dedicated to strengthening Prince George's County public schools and their families in the Laurel area. Side by Side hosts a monthly Family Academy for families from seven elementary schools, with parent workshops in English and Spanish, enrichment activities for children and a free meal for the families. It also runs a homework club three afternoons a week at a Laurel apartment complex and has a tutoring program in which adult volunteers work one-on-one with elementary students in need of extra help.