May 13, 2013 9:53:34 AM
In 2009, Angela Nash and her husband began opening up their home in New Hope each Friday night to feed and spend time with five young girls who were struggling in school.
That set the foundation for the program now known as "A Chosen Generation," which matches volunteer mentors with at-risk youth as identified by teachers, school counselors and parents, and seeks to improve their performance in school and discuss problems the students are experiencing outside the classroom. The program has been serving approximately 20 children, but now, Nash is trying to build the program even more.
In September, Nash's program will move into the Townsend Community Center each Wednesday from 4-6 p.m. and serve as a tutoring and after-school program for what she hopes will eventually serve at least 50 at-risk youth.
Nash said A Chosen Generation was initially funded out of her and her husband's pockets, but they were able to accept donations when they officially established the program as a non profit.
"It just began by opening our dining room up. Every Friday night we took all of the furniture out, put it in storage and we started out with these five girls," Nash said. "We did that for about two years and it kind of grew. We had boys start coming instead of just all girls. We went on youth trips every other weekend and so it kind of got up around 20 kids."
Nash said a "heart for youth" is what inspired her to start the program.
"We (saw) that there was a real need for our kids, a lot of them (in) single-parent homes and a lot of them divorced homes. There are just a lot of issues that they're dealing with ... These children have been told, 'You're no good. You're dumb. You're stupid. You're not going to make it.' They've been told all these negative things and there's power in words," Nash said. "We don't want to admit it but we've always been told growing up that words don't hurt, but words do hurt. Words stay with you and they affect you. This generation especially has been told how they're not going to make it. How they're no good, so that's how the name came about. We want them to know that they are chosen. They are going to make it. They are somebody. "
More specifically, the main goals of the program known as Youth 360 are to reduce the academic achievement gap between minorities or low-income students and their peers, increase job readiness and employability and reduce risky behaviors in the age 11-17 population.
A Chosen Generation program coordinator Shaquita Mickens, formerly a substitute teacher in Noxubee County, said she had the opportunity to mentor Nash's own daughter, who had been bullied in middle school and relied on Mickens' advice to get through those difficult situations.
"At the beginning of the school year, when I first started mentoring her, we talked about dealing with bullying issues. We talked about grades and academic advancement," Mickens said. "We've even talked about inter-cultural studies as far as her career once she graduates from college. Based upon her grades and based upon her behavior from starting with her in the beginning, I've seen that there's been a great success in mentoring versus someone who does not have a mentor."
Nash said she hopes to see the program expand into the communities of Artesia and Crawford in the near future. The organization's beginnings in her house and the positive response she received from the five girls she started with gives her hope that many other youth in the community can be reached through this organization.
"When we had all the girls in our living room, I just looked at them and looked at their lives and realized these kids have gone through some hard things in their young lives, and to see them growing up and beginning to talk and share and to see them come back and say, 'Hey, look at my report card. My grades are getting better,'" Nash said. "To see them open up, to see them talk, have fun and just go on trips, that's the good part."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
1. Columbus police chief McQueen retires COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. Columbus School board won't go 'buy the book' COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Settlement brings new hope for Kerr-McGee cleanup COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Immanuel Christian School charts new path forward COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY