10/29/06 — Agency to receive $900,000 for youth programs

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Agency to receive $900,000 for youth programs

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 29, 2006 2:01 AM

Smart Choices for Youth Inc. has received a portion of a $900,000 grant to help faith-based and community organizations offer services for Wayne County youths and families over the next three years.

Smart Choices was one of only three programs in North Carolina and one of 420 organizations nationally to receive part of $58 million distributed through the Compassion Capital Fund, part of President Bush's faith-based and community initiative. The fund is administered by the Department of Social Services.

The $900,000 grant will be shared by Wayne and Wilson counties over the next three years. Daryl Woodard, executive director and founder of Smart Choices for Youth, said the award is the largest the organization has received in its 17 years of operation.

Founded in 1989 in Wayne County, Smart Choices branched out to include Wilson in the mid-1990s. The program targets at-risk youth, providing after school programs, mentoring for children of prisoners and the Governor's One-on-One volunteer program.

The $900,000 grant will allow the organization to work closer with churches, public officials and the community at-large, and is designed to strengthen existing efforts in such areas as combating drug use and gang violence, Woodward said.

At the outset, efforts will be geared toward several churches in Wilson and Wayne counties. Later, there will be training sessions and forums for youths as well as adults to solicit feedback about the needs in the community.

A coalition will also work with police agencies as well as the school system and public housing, he said.

"If we didn't have this money, we could just keep talking about it," Woodard said. "But now we have the money, resources and technology to talk about what others are doing across the nation."

As the process unfolds, Woodard said the target audience will also expand.

"The churches here in Wayne County will be hearing from us," he said. "This is going to give everybody in Wayne County an opportunity to come to the table and see what we can do."

The national grant is meant to improve organizations' ability to provide a wide range of social services to combat homelessness, to help at-risk youth and rural communities and to create initiatives to empower youths and promote healthy families.

It is the empowerment piece that most appeals to Woodard.

"So many kids fall through the cracks. We're trying to address the cracks in the system," he said. "This gives the community the opportunity to empower them."

With close to 200 churches in Wayne County, he said, "If we can energize just half of these churches to see the importance of this. This is a start, and what we're hoping to do over the next three years, is not only have our entities but have many more churches get on board."

Law enforcement and other community agencies and organizations have already expressed their willingness to back the initiative, which is probably why Wayne County got the nod for the grant, Woodard said.

"Everybody knows you don't get rich off grants by providing services to the children and families in Wayne County," he said. "We want to see things in the community that can help kids get into positive things in the community, to keep them off the street, to curb youth violence, to keep them from gangs, to keep them in school so they can prosper and be productive citizens. One agency can't do it."

Woodard said there are many positive programs already happening in Wayne County. Now it's just a matter of continuing the trend and getting everyone involved.

"For those parents that are striving hard, involved with their children at school, at church, on the soccer field, we're trying to provide another additional tool for the parents and kids," he said.

Woodard added that money will not just be used for already troubled children, either.

The funds will help set up programs that will benefit future generations and to reinforce the efforts of those youths that are already on the right path.

"This grant is for the community," he said. "It gives them a chance to step up to the plate and get their kids involved, our own churches involved.

"What we're going to try to do through the grant is empower these youth -- to stay in school, stay drug-free. And for those on the other side, that they can see the positive peer pressure."

Woodard said in the coming weeks, there will be strategy meetings to discuss future projects and determine the county's most pressing needs. But the beauty of the grant, he said, is that nothing is set in stone, which means it can be customized to fit the local population.

"I want people to call me with ideas and say, 'This is something I have been thinking that we ought to do,'" he said.

For more information about any of the Smart Choices programs, visit the Web site www.scfy.us or call the office at 735-0008.