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VIP Corner: Grantees announced

by Special to the News-Times | January 24, 2021 at 6:00 a.m.

This is the second of a two-part column announcing this year’s VIP grantees. See the first part, with the other grantees listed, in last week’s Sunday Living.

SHARE Foundation recently announced its 33rd round of grant awards and fourth year of grants focused on prevention and intervention of crime and violence through the Union County Violence Intervention Plan (VIP).

VIP grants totaling $223,050 have been awarded to the following:

Magdalene House received $28,700 to address the Re-entry Focus Area of the VIP.

The Magdalene House is a successful model that originated in Nashville, Tenn. 20 years ago for women that have experienced violence and betrayal on the most intimate level. These negative experiences in many cases lead to drug addiction, which then led to prostitution, homelessness and other life altering situations. Women entering this program are ready to break the cycles to live a life free of trauma, addiction, and incarceration through safe housing, long-term support and community partnerships. The program provides a 24-month, rent-free home environment helping residents learn how to live honest, sober and self-sufficient lives through required training and education.

Magdalene House El Dorado opened its doors June 1, 2020. Women that enter the program first get accustomed to the house and community, get connected to resources such as therapy, education and social services provided to those in low-income situations and begin to set realistic goals while focusing on recovery. Step two keeps a focus on recovery while finding a part-time job to support herself, and completion of a GED if necessary or other educational aspirations available. Step three will work toward financial independence and completion of the program while maintaining a healthy lifestyle and becoming a leader for others in the house. At completion they will become Sisters for Life. Sisters actively encourage and support others walking the road they once walked.

In 2021, Magdalene El Dorado will be expanding to include additional services identified by residents and partnering with individuals or organizations to provide such services, especially in the areas of straightening out financial situations, enhancing and restoring family relationships (especially with children), formal education programs available, and job search programs/resources available, housing after program completion and transportation.

There are opportunities for volunteer and financial support from the community at large to include individuals, civic organizations, businesses, churches, mental health professionals and facilities. To learn more about the Magdalene House contact Becky Choate at (870) 918-6476.

South Arkansas Arts Center received $20,500 for the Art of Learning program that addresses the Mentoring Focus Area of the VIP.

Programming pays for scholarships for after-school classes, camps, workshops, and lessons for at-risk and underserved students in Union County.

While after-school and summer arts education has been an essential part of the South Arkansas Arts Center’s mission since its founding, the “great disruption” of COVID-19 lent the opportunity to find new ways to reach more students. SAAC has thrived for decades efficiently and creatively using resources available to provide the most services for the most people. In 2021, Arts Academy schedules will include a blend of in-person, virtual and video classes finding at least one way to reach every student, so our teachers/mentors can continue to build those bonds with their students that offer benefits far beyond the classroom.

Evidence-based research from the Centers for Disease Control and the Office of OJJDP shows that mentoring and after-school programs, including arts programming, translate into better grades, attendance and citizenship at school, relating into higher graduation rates, as well as increased engagement with parents. All are a vital part of reducing the risk for involvement in crime and violence. Contact Executive Director Laura Allen at (870) 862-5474 for more information.

Wyatt Baptist Church received $55,700 to expand the National Church-Adopt-A-School (NCAAS) Program in Union County schools by addressing the Mentoring Focus Area of the VIP.

The National Church Adopt-A-School Initiative began 35 years ago when Dr. Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, was asked to send men from his congregation to walk the halls of a local high school during school hours. The students were participating in gang activities and were disruptive and disrespectful in school. The presence of these men made a big difference in the students’ attitude. After seeing the success their members were having on the communities of their area, they began the National Church Adopt-A-School Initiative with the goal of training and equipping 1,000 churches within the United States to reach public schools.

Wyatt Church attended the NCAAS training in 2014 and began mentoring in El Dorado. Mentors follow up to three students throughout their education to foster deep and lasting relationships with each mentee and his or her family. Mentors spend time focusing on their strengths and building their self-esteem. Students are encouraged to stay in school, avoid drugs and alcohol, abstain from pre-marital sex, discourage bullying, and promote other healthy life choices. Mentors also point to corrections that need to be made with bad choices or problematic school behavior when necessary. Regardless, students have a strong desire to participate, grades and class attendance have improved and a decrease in in-school disciplinary actions has been seen in these students compared to previous years.

Teachers indicate students return to their classroom with a mind more relaxed and ready to learn. Part of the decrease in violence must begin at school. Many of the arguments that happen at school are a spillover from something that has gone on in the students’ neighborhoods. Helping our students deal with negative peer pressure is a big part of the mentoring program.

A local Program Coordinator works with area churches to train their members as mentors to students in the school setting. Currently, there are eight additional churches who have undergone training for mentoring through the VIP and mentors are in eight schools.

We want El Dorado and Union County to be a safer place for our youth, both now and in the future. To learn how you can be involved as a mentor or to enroll your child, contact Program Director Vicki Harmon at (870) 862-2619.

In the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” You can help us reduce crime and violence proactively by volunteering as a VIP coalition member for one of the six focus areas or for any of the grantees listed today.

Go to https://sharefoundation.com/our-agencies/grants-vip/vip.html to view, use and share the Violence Intervention Plan, its outlined strategies and anticipated outcomes for the long-term. Also, you can like our Facebook page VIPUnionCounty to stay informed. Please contact Debbie Watts, Vice President of Community Impact at SHARE Foundation (870) 881-9015 for more information, to get involved in any of the focus areas or to volunteer for any of the VIP agencies listed today.

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