Plan leads Moore to Natchez

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 17, 2001

His campaign for the spread of Boys and Girls Clubs throughout Mississippi is simply a part of a much larger scheme, Attorney General Mike Moore said this week, as he described recent children-related efforts that have included Natchez.

&uot;I’ve been working with children for more than 20 years as a district attorney and as attorney general,&uot; Moore said. &uot;My primary effort now is campaigning for children.&uot;

His decision to seek another term as attorney general, a post he won handily in the 2000 election, was based on unfinished business, he said – Mississippi children’s business.

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Estimating as many as 200,000 children in the state who are at risk of failure, Moore said he has searched for ways to help children to stay on the right track, to complete their education and, most important, to learn self-respect and to have hope for the future.

&uot;We lock up far too many people in Mississippi. We know how to build prisons. Now we need to build programs that will keep people out of prisons,&uot; Moore said. Those programs must begin with young children and then must follow them to successful adulthood.

Interest grows in Boys and Girls Clubs

&uot;I began looking around, and I started visiting some Boys and Girls Clubs,&uot; he said. &uot;I liked what they do, and I became involved in some of the groups that support those clubs.&uot;

The more he learned, the more excited he became that these clubs offer answers to many needs of the state’s at-risk young people.

He approached state legislators to see what money might be available for establishing new clubs. Then he went to Washington, D.C.

&uot;I went to Washington and met with people on the national level with Boys and Girls Clubs and asked them to help us double the number of clubs in Mississippi,&uot; Moore said.

National officials agreed. In fact, they promised $25,000 each for every $25,000 the state could provide for a new club. &uot;I’ve cost them a lot of money,&uot; Moore said with a chuckle. &uot;We’ve started 20 clubs since last year and hope to have another 20 this year, bringing the state total to about 70.&uot;

Natchez is one of the places Moore has put high on his list for this phase of the plan, he said. &uot;Natchez needs this. We’ve been working hard to get Natchez going.&uot;

Natchez aldermen voted this week to support a Boys and Girls Club locally, pledging $10,000 annually. Adams County supervisors also have pledged support but have not taken a vote on the annual donation.

State Rep. Phillip West, D-Natchez, a leader in the local effort, has reported strong support among the business and political leaders for financial support and service on the club’s board.

Not a racially divisive issue

A stumbling block has been a racial division among Natchez officials, Moore said. Some black elected officials who have been involved in the proposal have been vocal about their hopes of locating the club at the former Sadie V. Thompson School, which is in a predominantly black neighborhood in north Natchez; white elected officials have asked for a hold on the decision about location until the plan moves further along.

&uot;There shouldn’t be a racial division,&uot; Moore said, expressing confidence that the Natchez plan will move to conclusion. &uot;It looks like they’re putting together a pretty good board, a couple of the bankers and other business leaders. I think we’ve got a diverse group.&uot; That’s a prerequisite, Moore said. The club priorities are not on one race or another, but on helping children.

The social worker

attorney general

Moore, who said some people call him the social worker attorney general, said more and more of his time goes to the more than 18 programs he has helped to establish to help Mississippi children.

&uot;That title is OK with me,&uot; he said. &uot;Mississippi needs these programs. We’ve just formed a nonprofit agency to raise money for these programs. We’ll hold conferences and bring all the groups together to assess their needs and then send them back to their communities to work.&uot;

The nonprofit agency, Mississippi Mentoring Network, has as its goal to encourage and promote mentoring of children throughout the state. Getting people involved has not been difficult, Moore said. &uot;We’re doing some mentoring programs through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.&uot;

That program, dating nationally to 1904, is the oldest mentoring program in the United States and puts emphasis on one-on-one friendships between adult volunteers and at-risk children.

The nonprofit also has focused on tutoring. &uot;We’re trying to recruit thousands of people to be tutors, both in the schools and even going into the children’s homes. We’ve already recruited over 1,000 for this program.&uot;

Young people have signed up to tutor, too, and their work has been rewarded, Moore said. In early June, 83 students who have tutored other students and who met other criteria were awarded scholarships totaling $134,000. Next year, he expects the total to rise to $250,000.

Another program Moore praises is the Youth Crime Watch, which trains students and teachers to be alert to possible problems in school settings. &uot;We had some success recently at Natchez when a student was found to have a gun at school,&uot; Moore said. Trainees from the attorney general’s program played a part in the safe resolution of the problem.

&uot;We have to prevent violence in schools, stop bullying and that kind of behavior,&uot; he said. Recently, he formed a task force on cybercrime to find ways to protect children from exploitation by Internet predators.

Moore said the attorney general’s office has become the place in the state where anyone involved with children may come for advice and training. &uot;Anything state government can do for kids, we want to do here in the attorney general’s office.&uot;