MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – Singing, dancing and all-around positive energy filled Grace Baptist Church on Thursday night as the Grace Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools finished its summer program and celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Program Director Lillian Reynolds said that, when it began in 2003, the group had 50 scholars. Ten years later, the program has 600 scholars. Reynolds said the program couldn’t have grown as much if it weren’t for the parents who contribute money to help.
“We have grown so much that we have expanded to two other churches and three schools,” Reynolds said. “We have been able to hire college students for internships, add a workforce preparation program and a youth development program.”
Priscilla Hambrick-Dixon, associate pastor of children and youth ministries, said she had never seen such motivated children and credited the directors, site coordinators and interns for making the program a success. Interns were sent to Knoxville, Tenn., to train and meet people from other Freedom Schools programs from around the country.
“These children can go back to school feeling proud about what they have accomplished,” Hambrick-Dixon said. “The impact our staff had on each child won’t be forgotten.”
Reynolds, who called the school a civil rights movement for today, said the program meets the needs of the urban community of Mount Vernon.
“This is all based on peace, non-violence and self-respect,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said she wants to see the program expand. Having already reached out to the city’s youth bureau, school district and faith-based organizations, Reynolds said the program aims to bring a positive atmosphere to the participants.
“We need to invest in our most precious commodity, our children,” Reynolds said. “A lot of these families are in poverty and want to raise good children and need some support from youth development programs.”
For more information on the program, visit www.gracecdffreedomschools.webs.com.