Changing young lives through AMIkids

By By Nichole Osinski / American Press

Community members are joining together for the third annual Celebration of Children Banquet at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Old

Historical Calcasieu Marine Building.

Proceeds will help support the AMIkids Southwest Louisiana program.

Children from AMIkids programs and from area schools will act as servers, greeters, keynote speakers and performers.

“We try to make sure the adults are behind the scenes because we want the focus to be on the children,” Velika Hurst, AMIkids

board member, said. “That is their night to shine.”

Money raised at the banquet is

especially important because state funding was cut from the program.

Board members said budget

cuts have forced several AMIkids programs across the state to

close. The funding has now been shifted through the educational

system, requiring program officials to seek help through local

school boards. Also, where children used to be sent to the

program through the juvenile justice agencies, they are now being

sent through the education system.

Even with the cuts, the local program

has continued to offer at-risk children individualized guidance to

promote personal

growth, AMIkids Southwest Board President Willie King Jr. said. It

offers co-ed, day treatment programs with a focus on issues

where students live. Staff members work with youths who have been

adjudicated by a court for misdemeanors or who faced school

issues such as expulsion.

King said part of the program’s mission is to prevent children from getting into problems before they happen. He and other

volunteers have set up various programs, such as Homework Night, to connect youths with adult role models.

“There’s a lot of good kids that had some bad breaks or just took a wrong turn,” he said. “However, it’s not a turn that’s

too late to turn around and get them back on track.”

Board member Paul Pettefer said the whole program is about giving children a second chance, changing their lives in positive

ways. It is also about finding opportunities for these students so they can move past the issues they were struggling with

and contribute to the community.

Hurst said the program is primarily divided into three sections: academic education, anger management and drug rehab. Because

many children relapse, she said, the program teaches children to understand their anger or why they are lashing out — and

how to make right decisions.

“They can be a productive citizen in the community that they came from,” she said. “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?”

While the banquet’s purposes are to

recognize children and raise money for AMIkids programs, it is also

educates the public.

King said he wants the community to know there is an organization

addressing troubled kids’ needs. He said he hopes that by

hearing students talk about overcoming their troubled pasts the

public will understand how adults can make a difference in

children’s lives.

“The evening is really about what it looks like for volunteers to engage in the lives of children and how that can change

our city,” he said. “The most important thing is the value of caring adults being present for troubled children.”