YMCA Black Achievers program ends

Published 12:55 pm Saturday, September 7, 2013

by Harvey Smith

For the first time in 21 years, letters of invitation to join the program and an application have not been mailed to rising 8th-graders in City of Franklin, Southampton County and the Camptown section of Isle of Wight and the past year returning students announcing the kick-off of the yearlong program on the third Saturday of September.

Students in grades 8 through 12 were invited to join the program to meet monthly for the purpose of being exposed to a wide variety of careers while assisting in developing their skills necessary to compete in the workplace. The students were asked to signed up for a career choice, meet professionals in that field, go on field trips to job sites, tour colleges and museums, as well as participate in constructive social and recreational activities like ice skating, lock-ins and dances, planned by the students themselves.

The student leaders planned community service activities that have included over the years, sponsoring a dinner for the dinner at Thanksgiving, caroling with the elderly during the holidays, Rake and Run in the fall, and Clean River Day in the spring, as well as participating in the national annual High School Leadership conference that was held in January of each year.

The culminating activity for those students who satisfied the requirements of attendance, community service and fundraising was the end of the trip that has over the years have included trips to visit all the historically black colleges and universities on the East Coast and South over to Louisiana, and as far west as West Virginia, Kentucky, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. In addition to college tours, the students have partnered and visited with YMCA students as far away as the Bahamas and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, have visited the United Nations and the New York Stock Exchange, Ellis Island, participated in historical events like the Martin L. King statute commemoration, the Woolworth lunch counter museum in Greensboro, and the Underground Railroad museum in Cincinnati.

Hundreds of students have participated each year since its beginning the fall of 1992 and most of them have gone on to college, graduate and professional schools and many have come back to speak and motivate the students behind them. A year or so ago, two former students commuted from Maryland and D.C., respectively, by nine o’clock in the morning on the third Saturday of each month from September to May to serve as Career Cluster leaders because of their passion for the program. One of our former students will be evaluating the effectiveness of this 20-plus year program upon the community and the students it has served as part of his graduate school research project.

Along with the enthusiasm of the students who have participated and sustained this program, the stabilization force has been a cadre of adult Steering Committee leaders of the community that have served as program board and anchor.

The following were charter board members from its inception from a concept as introduced by Mr. Tom Pearson, then executive director of the YMCA, to the very last meeting, August 2013: Mr. Ernest Claud, Mrs. Sylvia Claud, Mrs. Carol Logan, Ms. Dorothy Jones, Mrs. Sitrina Bynum, Mrs. Alfreda Harris and Mr. Carl Faison. Over the years, additional dedicated and committed persons joined the adult leadership and have not left after five or more years: its current president, Mr. Harvey Smith, Mrs. Brenda Jones, Mrs. Sabrina Tann, Mr. Maryland Pope, Mr. Ellis Wright, Mrs. Lillian Davis and parents who actually formed a Parent Cluster under the leadership of Mrs. Joyce Johnson and Mrs. Deborah Boone, who were deeply involved in every aspect of the program from fund-raising, to staying up all night at lock-ins, to participating and supervising community service activities.

This program was completely operated by volunteers and the trips and all expenses used to operate this program came from the generous support of individuals, churches, sororities, and community civic and social organizations, the United Way, the City of Franklin and Southampton County and administrative support from the James L. Camp Jr. YMCA. Career Cluster leaders were from every possible career in this community, and all devoted their time and talents when asked and committed their Saturdays once a month for nine months. Truly the success of this program has to be attributed to the support and collaboration of persons and communities working together for a common goal. We would be remiss if not expressing our profound appreciation for all the support this program has received over the years and we hope and pray that it has made a difference of the lives of those who participated.

HARVEY SMITH is president of the YMCA Black Achievers Program.