ROWLAND — For Jackie Davis and her niece Satara Campbell, helping local youth in their hometown was worth the 320-mile weekly commute from Atlanta to Rowland.
“It was kind of difficult, but we made it happen,” Davis said.
They made the weekly trip in July to implement their Living Is Focusing on Excellence (LIFE) project, a youth development initiative designed to instill in young people a desire to always do their best in every aspect of life — to strive for excellence.
LIFE focuses on “going back to the basics” to enhance the traditional values and beliefs of being kind, respectful and disciplined, and being happy within yourself as a young person in today’s society, Davis said.
Having grown up in Rowland, she understands that there is a need for the children to experience new things.
“Some of the kids had never been exposed to things outside of their community,” Davis said.
Davis is a public health consultant and adjunct professor at Georgia State University, and Campbell is a learning content and technology analyst for Cox Enterprises, Inc. The women were drawn together for the project by a yearning to give back to the community and to teach children the fundamentals of life. Campbell said she was taught when she was young, and she wants to give back.
“It’s not just in the home. I was taught in the community,” Campbell said.
The LIFE developers conducted one-day sessions each week in July with youth attending the Robeson County Parks and Recreation Summer Camp at Rowland Middle School and youth attending Colors of Life, a crime and gang prevention program in Lumberton.
“There’s so much distraction today. A lot of kids are lost to social media and they don’t know the basics of life,” Campbell said. “I think this generation needs to connect to the traditional foundations.”
The school-aged children interacted in learning sessions, and participated in activities such as self-esteem building, using good manners and communication skills, taking care of the body, making good decisions, practicing how to say no to risky behaviors, and the importance of community service.
“We did a lot of role playing and skits, and they loved it,” Davis said. “Teaching people the basic skills of life is very important.”
The lessons can seem elementary, such as the proper way to introduce yourself. Davis said most young people know who they are but don’t know how to articulate that to others.
“We’re helping them build their communications skills and look others in the eye when they’re speaking to them,” she said.
According to Davis, “the project was extremely successful.” It reached more than 30 children who attended all the sessions and more than 60 who attended at least one session.
“Both groups of young people were bright, talented, and extremely thirsty for the knowledge and skills taught during the sessions,” Davis said. “They were absolutely amazing and so lovable.”
Colors of Life founder Leon Burden said the program will have a lasting effect on the children in his gang prevention program. It showed the young people in his program ways to avoid situations that can hurt their future.
“It’s puts the kids into the reality of things that really happen in the community,” Burden said.
The project developers said the children opened each session with one saying a prayer and every child reciting a Bible verse.
“I think that this is something that will stick with them for years,” Burden said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes for the kids to be turned around.”
The LIFE project ended with a community service training/opportunity at Pine Street Senior Center in Lumberton.
Davis and Campbell were grateful for the opportunity and for the collaborative efforts of everyone involved. They said they have plans to expand the project next summer with the involvement of other organizations.
Partnerships and sponsors included Robeson County Parks and Recreation Program Manager Jackie Gaddy-Johnson; Rowland Middle School site coordinators, Angela Govan and Ted Johnson; Colors of Life site coordinators Onetra Smith and Yvonne Thomson; Pine Street Senior Center Director Tonya Alford; Robeson County Commissioner Berlester Campbell; community supporter and advocate Vonta Leach; and the Rev. Shawn Mitchell, of New Hope United Methodist Church of Rowland.
Davis is looking for ways to make next year’s program better.
“We’re toying with the idea of what more we can do for the community,” Davis said. “We just wanted something better for the young people.”