11/16/07 — Community reaches out to assist local students

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Community reaches out to assist local students

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 16, 2007 2:00 PM

If it takes a village to raise a child, one group of Wayne County residents hopes its efforts will not only benefit the youths but might spawn similar efforts in other communities.

Central Heights Community Outreach, comprised of residents in the New Hope area that feeds Eastern Wayne elementary and middle schools, is targeting four areas of improvement, with a special kickoff event planned for this Saturday.

Ulis Dawson, a retired father of grown children, is one of the visionaries behind the effort.

"Our main purpose is to try to get the people in the community to come together, see what we can do to make life better for ourselves and our children," he said. "We're working together as a team."

In recent months, he and his neighbors began holding regular meetings to discuss ways to better prepare for the future. The meetings are held on the Monday after the first Sunday of the month, at Central Heights Free Will Baptist Church on Longleaf Avenue.

"There are four parts we're looking at," Dawson said. "Beautification -- trying to get rid of the old broken down cars and tires. People are enthusiastic about painting their houses and barns, and involved in cleaning up their homes and property. Second is recreation. We are organizing and will have something for our children to get involved in.

"And two of the programs I love, the college orientation program -- getting all those students interested in going to college. A lot of kids go to college just to get away from home and have some fun. We want to get this going, tell them about financial aid, take them for a visit to a college campus."

Lastly is an education program providing tutoring and mentoring to students who could benefit from such, Dawson said. Principals at the elementary and middle schools near Central Heights have already been enlisted to support the project that will focus on basic grammar and math skills.

"We will be working with those students and helping to mainstream them back into the classroom," he said. "At the present time we are working with the principals. Some students have already been identified and the volunteers have been identified."

Support from the school system has already been received, Dawson said. In order to work effectively, though, parents and students must also be receptive to the tutoring and mentoring opportunity.

"If the parents or the students are not interested, we can't work with them," he explained.

Response from volunteers has been enthusiastic, he noted.

"We have 14 quality volunteers already signed up who will take part in this program -- a magistrate, psychologist, retired teachers, retired assistant principal, a businessman. And 26 students from middle school have already been identified," he said.

A kickoff event to provide more information to neighborhood residents is planned for Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m. at Central Heights FWB Church, followed by a picnic.

The hope is that the program will not only be successful for the next generation, but will be replicated by other communities. To date, Dawson has heard from two towns in neighboring counties interested in doing a similar program.

"LaGrange and Snow Hill have asked for information. They're enthusiastic about getting something like this started," he said.

Johnny Lewis, president of the community outreach group, said he would hope Wayne County is not outdone by anyone else.

"I certainly hope that this program and this effort will spur other communities, that they can see the needs and do something similar -- take what we're all about, to help make their communities better and help their kids," he said.

Dawson said he would be more than happy to work with other communities interested in the prototype program.

"I would be only too glad to share what we're doing and help them get started," he said. "These are the only two schools (we've targeted). It would be nice if we could have something like this all over the county."

Once the project is more under way, Dawson noted, there are plans to expand it to also include the high school.