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Adopt A Leader program receives state award

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By Jesef Williams

Tyrique Benson considers the Adopt A Leader house a second school as well as a home away from home.

The Erwin Elementary School fourth-grader goes to the house nearly every day after school for mentoring and extra help with his homework. He would come every day if he could.

“It’s like a family,” he said. “When I come here, I feel welcomed.”

Benson is one of 60 area students who participate in Adopt A Leader, which was recently recognized by a statewide group for its work with youth in the local community.

At the last Lancaster County school board meeting, the S.C. School Board Association presented Adopt A Leader with the Champions for Public Education Award. Adopt A Leader was one of two organizations in the state to receive the accolade this year.

Organizer Bobby Bailey said getting the recognition was nice, but it reminded him of all the work that still needs to be done.

“We are very happy with what goes on here,” said Bailey, who started Adopt A Leader in 1992.

“We need more people. We can’t find enough people willing to spend time with a kid,” he said.

Fourteen people work as mentors with the program.

Each weekday afternoon, except for Friday, youngsters get off the school bus and walk toward the Adopt A Leader house on Arch Street.

Once inside, the children work on math, vocabulary and phonics. They also work with computer programs such as Microsoft Powerpoint.

“I am convinced the ability to read is the most important skill that any youngster needs,” Bailey said. “It’s the foundation for all other studies.”

The mentors also give students research assignments in which the students have to use the Internet to gather information and report back to the entire group. They recently researched presidential candidates and conducted a mock election. Participants also get time for basketball and other recreational activities.

The afternoon program runs from about 2:30 to 6 p.m. each day.

“It’s helping me out with school and daily activities,” said Arshad Frazier, a sixth-grader at A.R. Rucker Middle School. “It’s like another school and like a family.”

There’s no cost to participate, and the program is open to all boys between 6 and 18. However, parents must attend weekly parenting classes facilitated by Adopt A Leader in order for their child to participate.

Bailey said those classes equip parents with strategies to strengthen the learning process at home.

Adopt A Leader just started a program called Brother to Brother, which is geared to boys in middle and high school. Participants talk about social issues, receive academic assistance and discuss behavior issues. About 30 boys are in that group.

Leaders in the making

When Adopt A Leader started, participants met just once a month and had no permanent home. Meetings were held at community centers, churches and schools.

The program has been at the Arch Street house now for about two years.

But the Adopt A Leader experience extends far beyond the house’s walls.

Organizers take the children on out-of-county trips to Columbia, Charlotte and other cities. Later this month, they’re going to see a Charlotte Bobcats basketball game.

Julian Howard, a mentor, sort of grew up in Adopt A Leader.

He was in the program from age 5 all the way through high school. He now feels privileged to give back to the program that’s helped him so much.

“The significance I get is seeing the changes in the kids from when they first get here,” said Howard, 18, who now attends the University of South Carolina at Lancaster.

One recent afternoon, after the group finished watching “The Autobiography on Miss Jane Pittman,” some took time to reflect on their experience with Adopt A Leader.

Many said they are looking forward to participating in the program for several years to come.

“It feels like a home to me. All the boys are brothers,” said Kei’lyn Catoe, a second-grader at North Elementary School. “This is good for kids who are going to become leaders when they get older.”

If you want be a mentor or sign you child up for Adopt A Leader, call 313-2367. The address is 903 E. Arch St. in Lancaster.

Contact Jesef Williams at 283-1152 or jwilliams@thelancasternews.com