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AMIkids Southwest Louisiana board President Willie King with AMI student Danielle Fontenot after she spoke to audience members about the program and her progress. (Special to the American Press)

AMIkids Southwest Louisiana board President Willie King with AMI student Danielle Fontenot after she spoke to audience members about the program and her progress. (Special to the American Press)

Editorial: AMIkids Southwest Louisiana deserves our gratitude

Last Modified: Monday, March 04, 2013 5:17 PM

The wisdom of second chances, the power of redemption took center stage last week at the third annual Celebration of Children Banquet.

The evening benefitted the AMIkids program, which combines education and social skills training to help youths who have either been guilty of misdemeanors or have been expelled from school.

It is a refuge of last resort. For some, it could be the last stop before they are forced to don an orange jumpsuit.

‘‘There’s a lot of good kids that had some bad breaks or just took a wrong turn,’’ said AMIkids Southwest Louisiana Board President Willie King Jr. ‘‘However, it’s not a turn that’s too late to turn around and get them back on track.’’

On average, the local program averages servicing 100 students per year with a three-pronged strategy: academic education, anger management and drug rehabilitation.

AMlkids Southwest Louisiana success rate? A jaw-dropping 94 percent.

‘‘They can be a productive citizen in the community that they came from,’’ said Velika Hurst, a member of the AMIkids Southwest Louisiana board. ‘‘The whole goal of AMI is that it’s not just about getting a child to graduate with a GED. It’s about how can I change this child’s life.’’

The banquet featured a wait staff comprised of AMI students and several student speakers.

AMI students spoke about the poor choices they had made, their opportunity to rebound, the appreciation that they had for that second chance.

Many credited the program for adding discipline and structure to their lives, but more than that, for the mentors who believed in them and who are shepherding them to the proper path.

One speaker spoke poignantly about how she didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of her father, who had spent considerable time in jail, and how she could not remember a birthday when her father was present.

It was a reminder that some of what had led these youngsters to the AMIkids program was not of their own doing.

When state budget cuts recently threatened the very existence of AMIkids Southwest Louisiana, local community leaders rallied to raise funds to keep it open. Last week’s banquet generated $13,000 for the program.

Since its founding in 2000, AMIkids Southwest Louisiana has served more than 1,000 youth.

Thankfully, King, the board and our community have kept this vital program thriving. They, the students who are turning their lives around and the teachers and mentors who are helping them accomplish that deserve our gratitude.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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