Danielle’s father was in and out of jail and missed every birthday she had. Jalen was what he called a “wild boy” who lost his motivation.
Both students have begun to turn their lives around through AMIkids.
Stories like these put children on the center stage Thursday night at the Third Annual Celebration of Children Banquet. But it wasn’t just the moving speeches that caught the crowd’s attention; it was the flowing vocals and the quiet service as children greeted guests and attended to dinner. Each student had his own significant role to play during the banquet, held at the Historic Calcasieu Marine Bank Building.
“It’s important to be able to hear kids’ stories and understand the adversity they’ve overcome,” said Melinda Coats, vice president for resource development for AMIkids. “AMIkids provides an invaluable service to this community with education, behavior modification and treatment they need to move forward.”
This year’s event was held to raise money for the AMIkids Southwest Louisiana program — a non-profit dedicated to helping troubled youth. The program offers day treatment sessions for children who have been adjudicated by a court for misdemeanors or who faced issues such as school expulsion.
The funds from the banquet come at an important time as state resources were cut from the program. Board members said budget cuts have forced several AMIkids programs across the state to close. However, the local program has stayed open, providing at-risk children with support to keep them in school and prevent further issues.
Along with those in AMIkids, other banquet participants were children who turned their lives around before ending up in the program and students acting as mentors to other students.
A group from Oak Park Middle School spoke to the audience about AMIkids Southwest Board President Willie King visiting their classroom to encourage them academically and personally. Though not in AMI, they said their lives were positively changed because an adult took the time to teach them about making right decisions.
“It’s important because people get to see us shine and see what we do in life and how we will succeed,” Oak Park student Damali Williams said.
Students spoke about how they ended up in the program and what positive adult role models can do. Kearrius McGuire’s story began when he was kicked out of school in seventh grade. He spent several years in and out of school and a career center where he was expelled. After entering the AMIkids program in October, he is back on the honor roll with a new attitude.
“My last decision was AMIkids,” he said. “I knew it was going to make a change for me and that it was my last chance.”
Students also shared stories about their various struggles, from losing parents to falling in with the wrong crowds. The stories followed a similar route — they made wrong decisions but they were all making a choice for a better future.
Danielle Fontenot, a 10th-grader, said she did not want to end up in jail like her father. She told the audience about her goal to get out of AMIkids, return to school and eventually be a veterinarian or an artist.
Renee’ Plumber, whose mother died when she was 9 months old, said AMI made a difference by helping her become more respectful and find a direction in life.
“These children are human, they have made some errors just like everybody else,” King said. “We’re just standing in the gap and saying here’s a second chance to tell your story.”
King said about $13,000 was raised at the banquet. At the end of the night, students led by various adult mentors filed through the building — a reflection that children do follow and look up to their elders in the decisions they make