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Community gets peek at youth center

Lindsey Shelton | The Natchez Democrat — Jonnetta McCoy, from left, Shakriah Knighton, Latrice Ramsey and Zemirah Singleton sing along as Regginald Good plays “Old-Time Religion” on the piano in the music room of the newly opened D&J Youth Group resource research computer center.

NATCHEZ — Gospel music drifted down Claiborne Street Saturday afternoon as a group of local students crowded around a piano in their newly opened youth center to sing in celebration.

Local residents clapped and sang along as the students sang “Old-Time Religion” and other songs in the red music room of the D&J Youth Group Resource Research Center.

The nonprofit D&J Youth Group hosted an open house in the center to give the community a peek of a project that has been at least two years in the making.

“It’s a feeling that I just can’t explain, I’m so thankful. It’s taken us two years of good, hard work to get it looking like this,” Dianne Good said pointing to a blue wall covered in a mural of a rainbow where gang messages were once scrawled.

Dianne and her husband, Joe, started the youth group years ago and take the group on trips as an effort to expose children in Natchez to travel and culture they might not otherwise get a chance to see.

The center was converted from a kudzu-covered abandoned shotgun house that was littered with beer cans and evidence of drug activity into a place where the Goods say they work to keep the students in school and off the streets.

The red music room is one of three rooms in the center. The middle blue room and front yellow room house computers donated to the center.

But the red room is Morgantown sixth-grader Zemirah Singleton’s favorite.

“I really love to sing,” she said. “I think it’s great they’re trying to do this for us.”

The house, as well as the neighboring shotgun house, and a $5,000 grant were donated to the youth group by the Historic Natchez Foundation.

The Goods say they got the idea for a computer center because neighborhood children stopped by their house nearly daily to use the couple’s computer for schoolwork.

Youth group members and Natchez High School ninth graders Jonnetta McCoy, Latrice Ramsey and Shakriah Knighton don’t have computers at home.

“This is really going to help me out, because I really need a computer for my work,” she said.

It was only with a great deal of help from the community that the center was possible, Dianne said. The center received donations and materials from several local residents, contractors and churches.

“The community, both black and white, really stepped up to help us,” she said.

Natchez High sophomore Oronde Watkins said seeing the opening of the center was particularly special for him.

“I helped them work on it,” he said. “It means more because of that.”

D&J has helped 16-year-old Watkins stay out of trouble, he says.

“Mr. Good, he has taught me to be respectful and taught me to work,” Watkins said.

Joe said news of James C. Luster’s life sentence last week for the murder of Carlos “Mo” Wright reminded him how important it is that local children have positive influences in their lives.

“It made me sad for both families,” Joe said. “We can stop that kind of stuff. All these kids need is somebody to love them, and that’s what me and Dianne are trying to do.”

Ruth Nichols, Alcorn State University’s assistant vice president for educational and community partnerships, attended the open house and said she will be working to bring Alcorn computer workshops to the center for the youth group.

“It really just gives me chills being here and seeing it completed,” Nichols said. “And we have some free workshops that I think would be great for the kids here at the center.”

But the story of the center is only half complete.

The Goods are also working to convert the shotgun house next to the renovated house into the second part of the youth center.

“The house that is finished, that part will be for the girls, this part will be for the boys,” Dianne said standing near a hole in the floor of the unfinished house. “It will need flooring, Sheetrock, paneling, painting and a lot of work.”

Dianne said she believes $7,000 will allow the youth group to finish the second part of the center.

Anyone wishing to make a donation toward completing the computer center should contact Joe at 601-442-4169 or 601-597-2815.