Willie King, center. (American Press Archives)
Last Modified: Monday, February 25, 2013 10:36 AM
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.”