President George H. W. Bush was laid to rest this week. He was praised by many and ridiculed by others for the naivete of some of his ideas. One of those ideas was to encourage, promote and recognize one thousand points of light across the nation.
In poor neighborhoods across the country, he instructed the Department of Housing and Urban Development to compile a list of the 1,000 community programs that were effective in attacking social problems.
In his inaugural address he said:
“I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, rewarding. We will work on this in the White House, in the Cabinet agencies. I will go to the people and the programs that are the brighter points of light, and I will ask every member of my government to become involved. The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.”
In our community two local organizations were included in President H. W. Bush’s one thousand points list assembled by HUD: The Monroe City Court Mentoring Program, headed by Eldon Pipes; and the Top Gun Time Traveler-Save our Youth Program sponsored by Tab-N-Action, Inc.
Pipes’ program was unique for 1989. With a meager budget of $30,000 a year, Pipes began a program at the Monroe City Court that targeted adjudicated youth. Juvenile offenders were placed in the hands of the court mentoring program for counseling and mentoring.
A mentoring unit was established in every city school using volunteers from the professional community who worked with students during and after school.
The big hook of the program the hope of participation in the national AAU basketball tournaments. Most of the young offenders wanted to be on a mentoring program team to travel to tournaments in different cities and compete. Often they were seen by prominent professional players and coaches. They had hoop dreams; the program used those dreams to redirect them.
Of course, students whose grades dropped or found themselves in trouble were not allowed to play. Over 100 adjudicated youth participated in the program at any given time, most never returned to court again and improved their school performance.
It was listed as one of the 1,000 best programs in America. What happened to it? Pipes was the church musician for a city judge. When he went to an event with the youth and failed to play the organ for the judge’s mother’s funeral. He was fired.
After Pipes the program was severally crippled, and eventually died.
The Top Gun Time Traveler’s program, sponsored by Tab-N-Action, Inc., was a hybrid youth community service program with Scouting as its base.
At the time, Save our Youth Program operated a model home in a four bedroom apartment provided by the Monroe Housing Authority. Without a grant or funding source, the project called, “Jump Start” took twelve youth who were generally failing students and moved them into the home four days out of the week for a year.
The goal of Jump Start was to show parents how a structured family operates. The goal was to help the boys to become honor students by the end of the school term. With tutors provided by Hampco, Inc, and volunteers such as Janet Davis, LaToya Jackson, Constance Snowden and others, parents were shown how adding order to their families could impact student performance.
In the end, nine of the twelve youth became honor students for the first time in their lives, the other three were close.
It and other program components were listed as one of the 1,000 best programs in America.
What happened? The twelve youth appeared before the school board, told about their experiences and begged the board to expand the program to continue. They wanted to show parents how to help students. The board applauded the students, praised the project and never gave the idea another thought.
The program continued with other models including summer youth, Time Travelers, a charter school, a GED program, drama, and theater. At its core was a base of volunteers who sustained the core operation with or without grants of external funding. Most of its components still continue today.
Ironically, both programs were recognized by the George H. W. Bush Administration on a national level as two of the nation’s best.
The leaders of our community, however, withdrew support from both of its highly successful models for reasons that had nothing to do with the unique methodology or effectiveness of the programs.
So much for points of light.