Originally created 09/22/04

Graduates get chance for change



A year ago, Melvin Jones found himself living in Augusta, but not by choice.

He was at the Augusta Transition Center, having spent the previous eight years in the Tennessee and Georgia prison systems.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Jones, 38, received a certificate from Augusta Technical College after completing a culinary course sponsored by the college and the Salvation Army of Augusta.

He and seven other Salvation Army residents, who are enrolled in the organization's free substance abuse treatment program, qualified to participate in the program, said Dennis Harrison, the substance abuse rehabilitation program director at the Salvation Army's Greene Street location.

The goal is to help the men become employable and free of drugs and alcohol.

"It's never too late to improve and succeed," Mr. Harrison said at Tuesday's ceremony.

George Lightfoot, a spokesman for Augusta Tech, said the 10-week course represents a "successful partnership" between the service organization and his institution. The graduates received 16 hours of credit, he said.

The program is funded by the Georgia HOPE program and the Salvation Army, Mr. Lightfoot said. Graduates are guaranteed jobs in the restaurant field, Mr. Harrison said.

Augusta Tech President Terry Elam credited Salvation Army leader Maj. James Hall for his vision and the students for their commitment.

"It is hoped that this group will inspire others coming after you," Mr. Elam said.

Mr. Jones has no plans to halt his education. He has enrolled in regular courses at the college and is pursuing a mechanical engineering degree. It's his mission to recover from a life in which burglary supported his crack habit, he said.

"I spend time focused on studying technology and going to Beulah Grove Baptist Church," said Mr. Jones, who started living at the Salvation Army in May."Augusta is a good place for me. This is home."

Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or tim.cox@augustachronicle.com.