Originally created 09/15/03

Tenant takes time to help local pupils



A half-dozen middle school-age boys and girls file into an end unit on a weekday afternoon at Magnolia Park Apartments, book bags on their shoulders and notebooks and textbooks in their hands.

The brick unit looks like any other in the low-income neighborhood, except for the poster-board sign propped in the front window, with "Magnolia Park Community Center" written in black marker.

Inside, the children sit at tables, lay out their homework and busily begin reading and writing. The center's coordinator, Darlene Jones, and her daughter Genessa Travis, 26, also sit at the tables, sometimes looking over the children's shoulders, quizzing them about what they're reading or explaining how multiplication works.

At Magnolia Park Apartments, situated off Vandivere Road near the Augusta Golf Course, the center is a novel way of taking back the community. In an effort to keep children off the streets, the complex gave up a two-story unit, and Ms. Jones, a tenant who lives several doors down from the center, works there six days a week.

She is paid only in rent reduction and often pays for food and materials out of her own pocket.

Ms. Jones helps children and teens who otherwise couldn't afford tutoring get ahead with schoolwork, and she gives them an outlet to express themselves. There are drama night, choir night, youth talk night, dance Saturdays and - the most popular one - movie night.

Having grown up poor in West Virginia, Ms. Jones said, she can relate to the children in the neighborhood. Most of their parents work long hours, and family quality time is rare. Boys and girls can end up lingering outdoors after school, maybe getting into fights, maybe dabbling in drugs or sex.

"This is our safe haven. I'd rather them be in here than out there," Ms. Jones said, motioning out the window.

Asked why she doesn't just do her homework at home, 11-year-old Raven Overton, a sixth-grader at Tubman Middle School, shook her head.

"Miss Darlene and Miss Genessa, they help me with my timetables," Raven said.

DARLENE JONES

AGE: 47

OCCUPATION: Abstinence educator for Communities in Schools by day. Volunteers as resident relations coordinator for the Magnolia Park Community Center during afternoons and evenings

FAMILY: Daughters Lestonia Jones, 31; Genessa Travis, 26; and Trista Young, 24

QUOTE: "Sometimes in our lives we have things that push us down. Sometimes we lose ourselves in these situations, but we don't have to."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.