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Real LifeRennell Woods, Jonesboro, Ark.:
A few years ago, I started the At-Risk American Male Education Network (AAMEN) in Jonesboro, Ark. AAMEN is an afterschool program that reaches out to young males between the ages of 15 and 21 to help them use the various tools and resources they need to become productive citizens, lessening their dependence on social and governmental structures and nurturing them as positive male role models.
The idea of attending college is no small leap for many of our kids. Many have grown up in an environment where prison is more likely than college. So in addition to help with their studies, we try to help them imagine a different future, and give them the tools and support they need to make it a reality.It works. We have good kids in our program, but most of them needed some help finding their way.
Success stories don't come easily. Not for us, for afterschool programs in general, or—to tell the truth—for any other program designed to support kids facing tough challenges. We work hard to engage our kids, to make sure they have the academic support they need, and to counter the inevitable tug from social pressures to take the short cuts that could land them in trouble.
But when we take the time, when we invest the energy and resources, the rewards last a lifetime. These kids are on their way. We'll keep an eye on them, and continue to support them as they build their lives in college and after, and we might even call on them for some help in our work at AAMEN. We've got a lot more kids coming our way, and they'll need our help just as much.