Fresh Start celebrates graduates

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 1, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

Inside the Vaughan Room of the Selma-Dallas County Library, proud parents clapped and cheered as they watched their teenage sons and daughters go up to the stage and receive their diplomas.

The small graduation ceremony last Saturday was not about celebrating the end of schooling-for the 19 graduates, it was about marking a new beginning in their lives.

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The graduates were all students in this summer’s Fresh Start program, a comprehensive skill training and professional development program designed to give at-risk youth a new lead on life.

Frank Hardy, executive director of the Selma Youth Development Center, said the program began early in the summer with 30 teens between the ages of 14 to 21 who have been through the juvenile court system.

Throughout the summer, the teens received classroom instruction, life skills/job readiness-such as how to write a resume and prepare for job interviews-technology instruction, horticulture training, extra curricular activities, conflict resolution training and on-the-job training.

After the graduation ceremony, Hardy described the experience of working with at-risk teens as a “pleasurable struggle.”

“It’s been tough, but it has been rewarding,” Hardy said. “Anything in life worth achieving is worth the struggle.”

Fresh Start was created through a collaborative effort between the Selma Youth Development Center, the City of Selma and Congressman Artur Davis.

“A lot of people were involved in this program in helping to shape these kids,” Hardy said. “I think as long was we continue to pass the baton for the benefit of these kids, they are going to be successful.”

Most of the students in the program said they enjoyed having something to do over the summer that kept them occupied.

“It was a really great program,” said recent graduate Anthony Webster. “It gave us something to do and it kept us out of trouble.”

Graduate Jarvis Hyatt said Fresh Start gave him confidence and he gained a lot of respect from the instructors.

“Frank (Hardy) would make you come (to the program). He would go to your house and get you, so you knew that really cared,” he said.

Keevin Lowe, another Fresh Start graduate, said he enjoyed the program because he learned how to rebuild a computer and build up his strength through boxing.

“When I was boxing, every time I felt like giving up, Frank (Hardy) would tell me to keep going,” Lowe said. “Overall, I’d say the program was a great success.”

Hardy said he does not know if Fresh Start will continue next summer.

“I don’t know if we’ll have the funding, but I’m hoping to be able to keep this program alive,” Hardy said.