Kickoff for Summer Focus program Saturday in LuthersvilleBy W. WINSTON SKINNER
The American Union Relief Society will kick off its annual Summer Focus program in Luthersville on Saturday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
The kickoff will take place at Luthersville City Hall, where activities and meals for youngsters will be offered three days a week starting Tuesday. At the event, parents will be registering children for Summer Focus, and there will be food and activities.
The Meriwether County School System provides breakfast and lunch for participants who are ages 5-16. There also is a devotional time, crafts and academic reinforcement activities. Coach John Mayner oversees a sports component of the program.
The all-volunteer program needs volunteers, supplies and donations. Anyone interested in helping should contact Beverly Ball, who coordinates the overall project, at 770-486-8930 or 770-656-1292.
The program will be held from June 12-July 30 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays of each week from 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
AURS began as a program to provide dignified burials for black Southerners. Ball explained the origins of AURS – and its entry into the summer program in Luthersville – at a meeting of the Meriwether Adults Serving Kids Club at Clinton’s Restaurant near Greenville on May 23.
MASK member Nancy Lee introduced Ball, noting that Ball “and her extended family” form the nucleus of the AURS outreach each summer.
“I love talking about the program,” Ball said. “It is our heart.”
AURS “was organized in 1916 by a group of black men,” Ball said. “They organized it for the purpose of taking up money to bury the dead.”
In those days, many black Southerners died with no insurance and no way to pay for burial expenses. AURS members “would pass the hat to bury the dead,” Ball said.
The group expanded its outreach over time – helping people when their homes burned and meeting other needs.
AURS also grew – expanding through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. “Now the organization is only in Georgia and Alabama, and we only have about 300 members -- give or take a little,” Ball said.
Her mother, Minnie Ellis Freeman, taught school in Meriwether County for 36 years and was an officer in AURS. Minnie Freeman led the group in a new direction when it became clear that “what it was organized for, we didn’t need that anymore,” Ball said.
Minnie Freeman moved the AURS toward projects that involved faith and community involvement. Ball now lives in Peachtree City, and other family members live in Jonesboro, but the family’s roots in Meriwether County are strong.
“My Mama, this is her dream. She always wanted to do something for Meriwether County,” Ball reflected.
When one of Ball’s sisters commented on there being “nothing for the children to do here in the summertime,” the Summer Focus program was born. The sisters talked with other family members.
The first summer, the program was held at a community building in St. Marks. When the volunteers arrived for the first day, there were 25 youngsters “at the door waiting for her to open the door,” Ball recalled.
“We had nothing to start with. We just stepped out on faith,” Linda Posell remembered.
“We started in one room in St. Marks. We outgrew that,” Ball said. So Ball approached Luthersville Mayor Bob Trammell, and Summer Focus relocated to Luthersville’s City Hall, which is located in an old elementary school.
Basic math and reading skills are taught and reinforced. Mayner offers a variety of sports activities, including basketball.
“We do beginner tennis,” Ball said.
“They like to play sports,” said Ball’s sister, Adelle Freeman. She said Summer Focus gives many youngsters an athletic outlet who are not going to make it onto a team at Greenville High School.
While sports may create a sense of fun, the day always includes academic reinforcement, as well. AURS has been given computers that will add a new component to Summer Focus this year.
“Reinforcement of what they’ve already learned” is a goal, Adelle Freeman said. She said AURS members have been told by teachers that children lose a significant amount of what they have learned during the school term if there is not some reinforcement during the summer break.
Basic religious instruction is also part of Summer Focus. “We’re teaching them the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm,” Ball said. Moral lessons – including having “respect the place where we are” and seeing the city hall space as “a gift for us” – are also included, according to Ball.
Summer Focus runs from 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
“We averaged last year about 55, and we’re hoping to have more this year,” Ball said. AURS is “partnering with Unity Elementary School” in Luthersville to connect with children and families, she explained.
“We’re definitely looking for volunteers all the time,” Ball said. Volunteers are needed to help with meals and with supervision. Individuals who can help older children with mathematics skills are particularly needed.
Longterm volunteers are a godsend, but people with less time can also held. “We have volunteers who can give us just one day,” Postell noted.
Roderick Freeman, a minister and AURS volunteer, summarized what the group is doing. “We all know it takes a village to raise the children. When we look at the children, we don’t look at them as those kids, we look at them at our kids,” he said.
“We want to get the word out to the community that there is hope for our kids,” Roderick Freeman said.
Lee thanked the AURS members for sharing “what the needs of the program are” with MASK.
The ultimate goal of Summer Focus is to keep the children’s lives in a trajectory that heads them for success in life. “If we can get them to graduate and move on, we feel like we have exceeded,” Ball said.
Ball dreams of other programs in the future, including yearlong tutoring and some computer classes. “The possibilities are endless,” she said. “Just think outside the box.”