Originally created 02/14/98

Project Light helps youths learn through Christ



Space was tight in the parlor of the house at 345 Telfair St.

Workers with Fireside Ministries sat cramped in the dim room,the sunlight outside was cloaked by a bank of computers and instructor Jim Crawford.

They poured over the images on the white computer monitors, getting acquainted with literacy drills they will use for teaching at-risk youth.

They sounded computer lessons out loud. Apparently they were too timid.

Put a hand on their chests, instructor Jim Crawford coaxed them. "Get them to make a good strong sound -- `WHO HAS A CAN OF HAM?' "

The program, designed by Project Light of Norfolk, Va., is used at about 200 sites in the country. It is a key component of Fireside Ministries of Augusta's efforts to help youths earn their General Equivalency Diploma.

Fireside has worked with hundreds of youths at the Youth Detention Center, offering Bible studies and horticulture programs, said Phin Hitchcock, executive director of the 5-year-old Christian outreach ministry.

"We saw from the very beginning we needed to address the literacy part," he said. "We find their level on the computer. We start them where they are -- from zero to fifth grade."

"If you can turn on a light switch and have the basic thrust of the love of Christ in your heart, you can walk through the program," said Mr. Crawford.

He said schools have difficulty teaching because of family breakdown. It will take a one-on-one process to train and essentially re-parent -- students. "The church can do this job," Mr. Crawford said.

Project Light's program draws its subject matter from the Bible. "We are an evangelistic missionary ministry, winning people to Christ," he said. The program works with urban as well as foreign missions, with children, teens, or adults.

The literacy program is interactive and easy to teach, said Michael Newton, a student-trainer. "It is an opportunity for young people to encounter Christ through a relationship and to empower people to learn to read God's word."

The 2,700-square-foot Telfair Street house was one of 17 properties donated to the United Way in 1997 as part of what is now the Peter Seymour Knox Community Service Center.

Fireside, a United Way affiliate agency, requested the house be turned into a dormitory and an academy for at-risk teen boys. Students must demonstrate through Fireside's day program at the vocational training center on Fenwick street that they desire to change and be successful, he said.

The ministry has had disappointments and wants to be very selective, said Mr. Hitchcock. "We are not bringing a lot of kids who are dysfunctional into this area."

The ministry is screening teens. Eventually, Mr. Hitchcock wants to have eight students in the Telfair house and open additional properties.

Students will stay up to three years. "Each year we want the students to take more responsibility for teaching newer students," he said.

Mr. Newton, a 26-year-old sophomore at Augusta State University, and Jacob Maigida, a 33-year-old mechanic from Jos, Nairobi, are resident assistants at the Telfair house.

One of a teen-agers's greatest needs is to know that God loves them, said Mr. Maigida. One way or another, they have been abused or are going through pain. If we can give them a sense that the Creator loves and cares for them and has a wonderful plan for their lives, that will change their lives."

Fireside will also have dorm parents to model well-adjusted family life and professional counseling available for staff and students, said Mr. Hitchcock.

The ministry tries to help teens visualize what they could do in the future. "They need to be moving toward something besides what's going to give them a thrill for today," he said.

Some teens end up taking themselves out of the programs, he said. They feel they are too restrictive. Being on time and participating in work skills programs, giving up smoking, alcohol and profanity -- Fireside's guidelines -- are too much for them, he said. "They don't want the authority."

Teaching them to take pride in a job well done and to work with others are important parts of what Fireside does. One of the jobs available to teens will be landscaping the former Knox Foundation property for minimum wage.

"Some of these kids have no concept of working through something to completion," Mr. Hitchcock said.

Learning these habits and building on them and being exposed to the love of Christ -- "That is the essence of what we are doing," he said.