By Terri Ferguson Smith / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
Urging area pastors to get involved in a mentoring program, Boys and Girls Club of East Mississippi director Ricky Hood told clergy members on Monday that their help is essential to young people in the community.
The meeting is one of several recent gatherings to address the growing crime problem by youth in Meridian.
"You all are the leadership in this community, the absolute leadership," Hood said. "I need you, everybody in this audience to join the dream team."
Hood said if people believe in a program, they will support it. He pledged not to ask the pastors to do anything they cannot do and he said he was not asking them for money, just time.
"I want you to start building meaningful relationships with young people," Hood said. Just simply spending time with a child once a week and asking them how they are doing and what is going on in school can make a difference, he said. Hood asked clergy members to take with them a package of information about the mentoring program and for each of them to ask three to five church members to participate as well.
For the childrens' safety, each applicant for the mentoring program will be screened and will have to undergo a background check, Hood said.
"We need leadership to step up," Hood said.
He asked them to meet again in January and bring prospective volunteers. He also brought proof of the success of the Boys and Girls Club, a young man who went through the program during a troubled time in his life.
Tyrone Neal, now a counselor at Meridian High School, talked about the difference Boys and Girls Club made in his life when he and his siblings were in foster care and when his mother and the children were homeless in Meridian.
Because of those experiences and his mother's abusive boyfriend, Neal said he developed a lot of anger.
"Angry, hurt, mad," Neal said. "I was full of malice and rage. I shut down everybody. I said 'Nobody will ever hurt me like that again.'"
There were so many children in the foster home, for a time Neal and his brother slept on pallets on the patio, he said.
He contemplated suicide many times, he recalled.
"I gave up hope," he said. "Nobody cared about me, my sister, my brother."
Neal said when he became part of the Boys and Girls Club, he realized that Hood was not one to take excuses for bad behavior. As he grew in the program, he realized that people did care about him. He finished high school and went to college. Neal gives much of the credit to his success to the club.
The Rev. Odell Hopkins, pastor of West Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, said it is time for the people of God to get to work.
Mayor Cheri Barry called the meeting to ask area clergymen for help.
"I am thrilled with the turnout. I think we had close to 200 pastors here tonight," Barry said. "I think we all need to work together for the youth in our community for the success of Meridian."
Police Chief James Reed pledged his support and participation in the mentoring program. He described the role of pastors in crime prevention.
"I volunteered as a mentor." Reed said. "I am the police chief but I am also a father and a man of this community. I was born and raised in this community so it's very important to have mentors from all walks of life, whether we're ministers or deacons, whether we're law enforcement officers, or whether we're people who work in the media. We need people from all walks of life."