Youth Build is about character construction

Published 12:24 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bernice Dixon Magruder Jr. has mastered the mother’s eye known all too well by children reared in the South — the fiercely glaring eye that signals boys and girls to behave well or else.

The first class of the City of Natchez’s Youth Build program, designed to train and educate high school dropouts, is quite familiar with the Magruder eye, and they each understand the unspoken message behind it.

“She sees the best in us when we don’t see the best in ourselves,” said Gloria Jackson, 22. “She pushes us to the limit to achieve our goals.”

“Ms. Magruder does whatever can be done to help us out,” said Karl Felton, 20. “She’s there for you when you’re down and out.”

“She’s gone the extra mile … 10, 20 miles,” said Brandon Grantham, 18. “I just feel like she’s real dedicated. When you don’t show up, she’s at your house knocking on your door.”

“They present a challenge every now and then,” Magruder said of the class.

“They say I don’t smile or joke with them, but every now and then I show them that side. They nicknamed me G.I. Magruder because I have a military background.”

Until recently, Magruder served as Youth Build’s case manager and counselor. Her one-year contract expired in January, and she is uncertain it will be renewed before the second class is chosen this month.

But Magruder is certain programs such as Youth Build are needed to forge relationships with at-risk youth and teach them the value of hard work and citizenship.

She began youth outreach 15 years ago, and worked for the adolescent offenders program in Wilkinson County until funding was stripped away. She was working at an Ashley Furniture store, a far cry from her preferred line of work, until interviewing with Youth Build three times during the 2008 holiday season.

“(Getting the job) was my Christmas gift,” Magruder said. “I thought it was a blessing.”

“You have to understand they may not have someone that’s nurturing and understanding,” Magruder said. “You have to know what to say, how to say it and don’t look down on them. You have to look up.