YMCA program aims to help youth

Published 12:24 am Friday, September 29, 2017

NATCHEZ — At a recent Natchez Board of Aldermen meeting, the police chief said one woman called about putting her son in jail — but the Natchez YMCA might have a better option.

Chief Walter Armstrong said the woman’s son was having an issue with another individual on social media and she was concerned it could escalate into violence.

“She felt it would be safer to have her son arrested and locked up,” Armstrong said. “But we can’t just arrest a person because someone wants to have them arrested.”

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Armstrong argued it was time for the community to consider alternative avenues to saving the youth.

Natchez YMCA Director Alice Agner said she would love to be part of the solution. Agner and the YMCA offer a free teen afterschool program at the Margaret Martin Gym.

The free program, which has been active since the summer, currently has seven participants, but it can go up to 20.

“I think we should give our children every opportunity to be successful,” Agner said. “If you see your child headed down a negative road, we can help. This is more of a preventative thing. We are trying to stop them from getting into trouble.”

Agner said the program, which is from after school until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, accomplishes this through offering homework assistance, tutoring and life skills development.

One big aspect the instructor, Kersten Vanem, teaches is communication and job skills, Agner said.

“A lot of young adults, when they go in for an interview, they don’t know how to conduct themselves, know how to answer questions or even write a resume,” she said. “We make sure they have those basic skills.”

Agner said if the student, age 12 to 18, has an idea of what he or she wants to do job wise, the program can help find them a professional to shadow, which could even lead to an internship.

Agner said conflict resolution is also something on which the group works. Agner said the program is not about changing who the child is as a person, but teaching them some good practices for handling conflict.

The afterschool program also offers free transportation from school and to home, and provides the children with an evening snack, Agner said.

The program is funded through a grant with the Mississippi State Department of Human Services, and the grant requires the children to have not been adjudicated.

Agner said a parent did not have to be the person to recommend the child to the program. Schools, churches and law enforcement could as well, as long as the child has not been adjudicated by a court.

Armstrong said at the meeting that the community is having issues with fights and shots being fired among the youth. Armstrong said that future forks down two potential roads, “the funeral home or incarceration. There is no other way out.”

Agner said children going down that road could be saved.

“We have to save our babies,” she said. “We can’t keep letting them end up in heaven or in jail. It is not acceptable.

“If you want to have a chance at a future or a better life, then we are here to help.”

For more information, Agner can be contacted at aagner@metroymcams.org or 601-326-0558.