It continues at the South Augusta Community Development Corp., where mentors help pupils with homework, give them access to computers and try to touch their lives at the same time.
“Our efforts are to take care of the mind, body and soul,” said Yannik McKie, the chief operations officer.
The development corporation is in its third week of Success Through A Righteous Start, an after-school youth mentoring and feeding program aimed at at-risk kids in the Barton Chapel area. About 20 pupils participate in the program each day, but McKie said the goal is to spread the outreach to thousands of children across the city.
With violence and crime too common in Augusta, McKie believes the way to change is to reach youth needing help before they grow up and react to their circumstances.
“We can’t stop it now, but we can prevent it from happening in the future by reaching these kids that live in poverty-filled, drug-filled, violence-filled communities,” McKie said. “We can prevent them from being in five years or 10 years what we’re reading about in the paper now. These are the same kids.”
When the pupils in the STAR program arrive, they are first given a snack and get help with homework. When school work is completed, they can use one of 12 computers for games or research, and they get a hot meal at the end of the day.
To make the program convenient for families, the volunteers drive each pupil home using a Broadway Baptist Church van.
“What we do here in this building goes beyond these walls,” corporation director Leon Harpe said.
On Wednesday, Harpe and about four volunteers helped pupils do coloring, math homework and play strategy games on the computers.
Jayda Ward, a Barton Chapel Elementary School fourth-grader, said she likes school, but it becomes easier when she has a little help.
“If I wasn’t here, I’d be at home trying homework by myself and it would be harder,” Ward said.
STARS is aimed for children up to fifth grade, but the development corporation has other programs to reach different demographics. Each week, the center conducts adult literacy classes, teen mentoring, smoking cessation classes, senior groups and other programs.
McKie said he would eventually like to grow his center into a larger facility with basketball courts, a cafeteria and even a full-fledged school.
Although the center receives funding from Bright from the Start, the state’s Department of Early Care and Learning, to support the feeding program, McKie said finances are an obstacle in his plans for expansion. The center mostly runs on donations from Broadway Baptist Church, but the need is still there.
It’s an approach he said is needed to reach children who need help over a long period of time. After the first few weeks of STARS, he said the success stories aren’t yet there.
The major achievements won’t be seen until a child’s life is changed for good, and for the better, because the child who grows up to commit crimes and use or deal drugs began as a child who was reaching out for help, he said.
“What these children are dealing with is so systemic,” McKie said. “It’s going to take us doing what we’re doing for years to have one of these fifth-graders really make it.”