Merlene Davis: Funding for after-school program is goal of upcoming East End walk

Those who register for the skate/walk will receive a T-shirt like this. Photo provided
Those who register for the skate/walk will receive a T-shirt like this. Photo provided

Lexington's East End, which is so rich in black history, hasn't been shining in a positive light lately.

Young people, mostly males, with seemingly little interest in following a legal, less violent means of existence, have taken a community filled with pride and good memories and turned it into one of several impromptu shooting ranges that have popped up in Lexington recently.

Current and former residents of East End, however, are not going to let the actions of a few hooligans paint a negative image of the neighborhood they love.

The East End Family Reunion Coalition and the nonprofit Center for Families and Community Services are hosting a skate/walk called "First Annual Planting Seeds for the Future" to fund academic, cultural and social after-school programs at the Charles Young Community Center.

Regina M. Berry, executive director of CFCS and manager of the Charles Young Community Center, said the two groups believe using the America's Promise Alliance model, founded by retired Gen. Colin Powell, will give the young people in the neighborhood more productive activities to occupy their time.

"Community agencies have to join forces to address the problems," Berry said. "We have to offer something to the kids that is an alternative to the streets, to violence, to juvenile delinquency."

The America's Promise Alliance model, founded at The Presidents' Summit for American's Future in 1997, promises five things for our youth: caring adults to provide guidance; safe places to learn and play without fear; a healthy, nurturing start in life; an effective education; and an opportunity to serve others and give back to their communities.

Berry's focus is on the educational component. Only about 20 percent of students in the neighborhood are proficient in reading. Tutoring in the afternoons would improve that statistic greatly, she said.

"My biggest thing is to address the success of kids in school and in life," she said. "Many are not meeting state minimum standards."

She needs dedicated volunteers or money to pay stipends for those who will be teaching the students.

"We will assess, and provide the appropriate academic support and maybe some weekend workshops," she said.

Carl White, who heads the reunion organization, is hoping to organize roller skating at the center, for social interaction and exercise which can be lacking in communities that often choose to keep children indoors for their safety. Some of the funds generated could help buy skates.

The Charles Young Center already hosts program for the aging and a GED program that served 106 people this fiscal year and graduated 61. The program also provides help with orientations and sets up interviews for students entering college.

Also, Grand Master Charles Fields, an 8th Degree Black Belt, teaches martial arts at the center Monday and Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. for youth ages 6-12 and adults.

And a new art history and cultural studies program started at the end of June for children and adults. It helps people to communicate through art.

"We also have basketball," Berry said. "But all kids don't want to do basketball."

By creating more programs, especially after school and during the summer months, more children will find something positive to latch onto in a safe environment.

To do that, the reunion group and CFCS are inviting all of us to participate in the skate/walk.

The reunion coalition is a nonprofit whose goal is to keep family and community ties alive in the East End. For 10 years, the coalition has hosted an annual reunion that has brought family and friends from around the country back home.

Since 1987, CFCS has focused on meeting the educational, training, and support needs of low-income families and families for which English is a second language. CFCS aims to empower children and whole families to overcome barriers to self-sufficiency.

All we have to do to help is solicit pledges from family and friends and then walk or skate a little less than two miles through downtown Lexington. Water stations will be set up along the route.

Registration is $10 and includes a T-shirt and hot dogs, chips and a soft drink. After the walk the need for additional programs for area children will be discussed.

Berry has secured $200 from people supporting her walk, she said. She knows of about $1,000 that has been raised by others, and the goal is to raise $25,000 or more.

Registration forms are available at Charles Young Center, 540 East Third St. Donations are also accepted there.

Instead of complaining about our youth, this fundraiser is a way to bring about change.

With a focused effort, we can start to turn things around.