Seven graduate from AOP program

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 29, 2010

NATCHEZ — Walmart Manager Lionel Stepter told the Adolescent Offender Program graduates to avoid looking into life’s rearview mirror.

“Don’t let your efforts and your counselor’s efforts go to waste,” Stepter said. “Take what you learned from the program, and move forward — only look into the rear view mirror if you are using it to see further ahead.”

Seven students from AOP graduated at Wednesday.

Central Alternative School Guidance Councilor Jimmie Love said success starts with the right attitude.

“Don’t let mistakes take over your life — please do not allow that to happen,” Love said. “You can rise up and do something worthwhile.”

Stepter grew up in New Orleans, and he said it wasn’t the best neighborhood.

“I grew up around drug dealers, thieves and murderers,” he said. “When I was 16, I never thought I’d be a Walmart manager.

“But I didn’t let my mistakes deter me, and I strove for something.”

Stepter said every day you wake up you have to say to yourself, “I’m going to strive for something today.”

Judge John Hudson said he was proud to see these youth come through the program.

“The reality of what life is about is respect,” Hudson said. “Respect yourself first, because without that, you can’t respect others. Second is to respect others.

“Those are two major movements that must happen in your lives.”

Southwest Mississippi Mental Health Children Services Coordinator Jodi McIntyre said she was proud of the graduates.

“From the bottom of my heart, I’m so proud of all of you,” she said. “Every child counts, every day, every minute.”

AOP offers juveniles who’ve been involved in criminal activity a closely monitored environment, help with schoolwork and the support necessary to turn their lives around.

AOP is a three-phase program to help rehabilitate troubled youth. Five students moved to phase two and two moved up to phase three Wednesday.