FEATURE STORIES

A Priceless Place


by Heather Kailholz
Sept 2008

 

“I am from buildings that stand high and tall and I hope never fall. I've gotten up every time I fall.”

These lines are from the poem, “I Am From,” written by a resident of Lower Price Hill, located in Cincinnati, Ohio.

As we grow up, we are told to “never judge a book by its cover.” When you look at a low income neighborhood, it is not hard to judge those who live there.

It has been said we are all God’s children, which it is probably wise to refrain from judging someone solely on their socioeconomic status, but rather appreciate them for their contributions, efforts, and compassion towards their community.

The Urban Appalachian Council (UAC), along with the Hamilton County Community Action Agency and AmeriCorps, works to help those in low income neighborhoods gain the skills necessary to contribute to society. The UAC has clients that have dropped out of school, are unemployed, and/or have been incarcerated.

The Council’s goal is help its clients enrich their own lives by using their own abilities. Each staff member gets to know his or her clients in order to really understand and help them. Bonnie Hood-Smith from UAC helps people realize their potential by assisting them in obtaining their GED, gaining employment, or mobilizing them toward independence. Cheryl Hodge, Sister Brenda Brady, and Debbie Holmes, also from UAC, tutor and teach those who are striving toward their GED.  

Tameka Wilson from the Community Action Agency helps those who are in danger of having their utilities turned off. Nancy Laird, a staff member of UAC and Community Link, helps clients get a telephone, financial assistance, and transportation. Stephanie Sherman, from UAC, gives her clients a priceless power, the gift of being able to read. She teaches individuals of different ages, ranging from childhood to the senior years, how to read. Anyone who walks in the door understands that the staff is there to help, not hinder, clients’ dreams.

The UAC offers an after school children’s program that gives kids a quiet, safe place to do their schoolwork or receive tutoring during the school year. Also, it offers a summer lunch program that is affiliated with Cincinnati Public Schools which allows children up to the age of 18 to eat lunch for free. Some of the kids in the free lunch program would not get to eat otherwise. The UAC, along with CPS, is helping one child at a time gain the strength and confidence to persevere amid any potential hardships they may encounter.

UAC also offers a summer youth job readiness program for teenagers 14 to 18 years old, which gives the youth of Lower Price Hill the tools they will need when they enter the workplace. The UAC recently brought in guest speakers of different occupations who taught students what it takes to be professional and also provided them life skills training.

The classroom contains a variety of different student needs and viewpoints, yet the teenagers work together in order to learn, grow, and mature. As the three-week program continued, the students began to open up. Some of them have had rough childhoods, abusive parents, and either have been or know someone who has been incarcerated. However, these students are not hopeless causes. They, along with every other teenager and child, are the future. It is up to adults to guide them toward a better tomorrow.

A young man in the Career Readiness Program named Charles* showed that there is hope for today’s troubled youth. Charles had not had the best home life growing up, but he prevailed. When called in to discuss his resume, and asked to name his personal qualities that would get him hired, he replied with, “I’m dedicated, determined, hard working, and willing to work.” These are mature words for a 17-year-old young man. In spite of some visible frustrations he experienced during the program, in several one-on-one sessions he had the best resume and the best mock interview out of all 17 students, according to a few UAC staff members.

At the end of the program, the students were required to give a presentation on the career of their choice. Charles discussed his career goals and his five year plan, both of which sounded plausible and realistic. Charles decided that he wants to be a recording artist. According to his presentation, he has contacted colleges that have an audio-recording program, and as long as he obtains his GED, one of the colleges stated that he will be admitted to that school.

Sometimes people forget to have faith in others. We, as people, are always putting blind faith in strangers. When we are driving, we have faith in the other drivers to use the proper precautions. When we are at a restaurant, we have faith that our food will be prepared and served properly. Faith is an amazing tool that many forget they possess. If we all just have a little more faith in people, perhaps we would be surprised by the positive results.

Recently, a man named Gary came in to receive bus tokens. He went on to tell those at UAC that he owns his own moving company and is looking for people to work for him. Gary then said that he was incarcerated for eight years. This is usually problematic to most people.

However, staff at UAC continued to listen to him. He said how he was recently released after eight years of incarceration, and has turned his life around by leaving his rowdy days behind him, and no longer associating with those who contributed to his delinquency. Gary is living his dream. The excitement and sincerity in his voice made it clear that he was a living success story. It was obvious to those at UAC that he has risen above expectations and stereotypes and is a walking inspiration.

Gary is just one of many success stories at the UAC. The graduation rate for the GED program has tripled in contrast to graduation rates of other locations offering the GED. Anyone who has lived in Greater Cincinnati knows that, with its suburbs, villages, and townships, a map of the city looks like a puzzle. The concept of a puzzle applies to organizations within the community.  The Urban Appalachian Council, AmeriCorps, Community Action Agency, and Community Link, for example are all pieces of a compassionate, caring, and dedicated puzzle.

 

Editor’s note: * designates the name has been changed

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