The Rev. Solomon Loud of New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church, right, stands with Jerome Smith, co-founder of 4-E Learning and Prevention Center, in one of the center’s classrooms on North Monroe Street. The center houses a program established by New Beginning to reach out to at-risk youth. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)
ALBANY — As part of its ongoing mission to improve the downtown Albany community, a church in the area is housing a program to get children not currently in school off the streets and back on a positive track.
The 4-E Learning and Prevention Center at 204 N. Monroe St., housed on the campus of New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church, has recently begun its "Students for Change" program, which caters specifically to school-aged children who have been suspended or expelled from school to help “improve their life status.”
Catering to children in grades 3-12 who have been expelled, suspended, are truant, on probation or are juvenile re-entry, it currently operates 8 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays and has begun to sign participants. The purpose of the program is to provide intervention and prevention of juvenile delinquency and adjudication by promoting high school diploma and career service diploma completion of alternative education.
In addition to that, there is a focus on behavioral modification, health and safety and drug prevention.
“The purpose is to (reach out to) kids expelled from the school system,” said Jerome Smith, co-founder of the center. “We want to be a partnership to get them back into school. … Not every child is cut out for college, but we need to (nurture their talents). Some kids just don’t want to get a diploma. … With the juvenile court system, we think this will be a powerful program we have put in place.”
The force behind this program, Smith said, is his wife Barbara Smith, the founder of the 4-E center. While “Students for Change” was instituted earlier this month, the idea for it is nearly a decade old.
“Nine years ago, we looked at the juvenile justice system, which is a good system, but we kept seeing repeat offenders, and (we began to look at) how we could help children and the community,” Jerome Smith said. “Our goal was to get kids off the streets and into a structured environment, and we went from there.”
The Rev. Solomon Loud, pastor of New Beginning Missionary, said the program has been well-received by leaders in the community.
“We are looking forward to working with the court system to prepare for a brighter future,” he said.
“Students for Change” is being made possible with the help of private donors and grants. It is being run primarily by several volunteers, with the hope that paid staff members will eventually be added as support as the program grows. Officials are anticipating for there to be up to 40 or more children participating who will possibly be served during the day and by a later shift beginning at 3 p.m.
“The vision we have is to give hope to youth,” Loud said. “We have a lot (of children) not doing good in school for some reason. If we have kids running out in daylight, they won’t get into anything but trouble.”
The plans for the program involve not just reaching out to children, but to the whole family by offering computer and General Educational Development (GED) classes — which have already generated interest. In addition, there will be an eight-week program called “Parents Empowering Parents,” or P.E.P., that cateres specifically to parents to help them achieve stable footing through such acts as purchasing a home.
“As of February 1, we will have that (the GED and computer classes) up and running,” Loud said. “… Those are some of the things we aspire to do, to (to prevent youngsters from breaking) into people’s homes and get kids off the street,” ensuring they stay out of trouble.
Aside from achieving the educational component, this also ties into the mission of New Beginning to make the 200 block of North Monroe Street into a brighter spot than it has been in recent years. As more financial backing comes into the program, the hope is that it can be expanded to get the children involved where they need to be.
“I know in my heart this is needed, because I see the number of kids out of school,” Loud said. “… We need to get these kids to get back on track. A large number of these kids don’t know they need help; they think it is normal for them to be out of school.
“Until they change that mindset, they will continue this cycle. … They need a program to help them get on the right track.”
This means not just engaging the children while they are involved in the program, but following up with them in the weeks and months after they leave, the program’s co-founder said.
“We have faith this program will be successful,” Smith said. “(We plan to) take it to other counties, but we are focusing on Albany and Dougherty County right now.
“We want the community to really look at what we are doing. Education means better business, and less crime.”
The four-year cohort graduation rates reported by the Georgia Department of Education for the Class of 2012 last spring showed Dougherty County to have an overall rate of 56.72 percent. Accounting for the rest of the metro Albany area, Baker County had a rate of 75 percent, Lee County had 73.44 percent, Terrell County had 87.34 percent and Worth County had a rate of 72.27 percent.
The state rate for that year was 69.73 percent.
More information on the program can be obtained by calling (229) 733-3553 or (229) 733-3543. Those interested also can email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.fourecenter.com.