There is a Fortress of Refuge in an unlikely place. Rocky Creek Road dead ends at the entrance of an old gym. You wouldnt know its an old gym unless you knew it was an old gym. Theres nothing that screams gym from the outside, only a banner announcing free Sunday morning breakfasts that the church, Heritage at Houston, has been providing for eight years.
To the left stands an abandoned house where grass and other foliage has taken over. The church is to the right, bordered by Fulton Street. As youve probably heard, the neighborhood has slipped since its heyday when it was a bustling middle class area, filled with people who worked at the base and other industries, some long gone. There are still pockets of the areas former self.
But here sits this gym. Nothing fancy. Concrete floors, a kitchen and some office space upstairs. There are bathrooms, but bring a flashlight.
At least thats what it was.
Last Wednesday, a new gym took its place. No, it still looks the same from the outside. The abandoned house is still next door. In fact, the gym sports the same concrete floor, but what was a dimly lit space now has lighting. Where crooked and loose basketball goals once hung, there are new glass backboards. Upstairs there is a computer lab that rivals any school in the county.
For this neighborhood, this gym is the first stop on the Streets to Success. For boys and girls in this neighborhood, this gym and the weekly tutoring programs it provides is a safe haven. Ray Rover is the ministry leader for the churchs outreach efforts to the youth of the Houston Avenue community. Other men at the church pitch in, but Rover is the pilot.
He has an uncanny ability to get things done for the children in his program with the help of community partners. Central Georgia Tech runs a summer program and provided the computers. Professional construction managers and architects helped with the design and electrical work. The Downtown Rotary Club, where I am a member, and others help out with the tutoring and serving the Sunday breakfasts. Mercer University womens basketball players help tutor the young ladies. There is no paid staff. All the work is done by volunteers. All of the materials are donated or bought at cost.
Rover shows them a different path by using men and women from the community to help the young people imagine what a different life could look like. These boys and girls have been up close and personal with two generals, retired Maj. Gen. Bob McMahon, former Robins Air Force Base commander, and current base commander Brig. Gen. Cedric George. How many people can say that?
Rover stresses hard work, and the children are seeing the results. Test scores are up. Disciplinary issues are down. They are excited about what their lives can be. There are no dead ends on the Streets to Success.
Rovers not alone. There are other programs across the city. Roger Jackson, the 100 Black Men and Mercer University are bringing in Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy for a fundraiser for Jacksons Motivating Youth Foundation on Oct. 2. Tony Lowden over at Stone Academy has raised money by bringing megachurch pastor and best-selling author T.D. Jakes to the city.
What these men have been able to do is provide, through demonstrated success, living examples to disprove all the stereotypes that are used to describe those kids. Yes, they are poor in resources, but they dont have to be poor in spirit and hope for their future. It helps if they can see the future in the body of people who care about them. Dungy is a published author and his books are all laced with ways to develop a Quiet Strength or how to find Your Path to Significance and Secrets to What it Means to be a Man.
Thats whats happening at this little old gym at the dead end of Rocky Creek Road, but no, its not a dead end at all.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraphs editorial page editor. He can be reached at (478)744-4342 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet @crichard1020.