Former NFL player tackling after-school program shortage in Macon

When the Bibb County school system cut its after-school programs in east Macon schools, a former Denver Broncos football player stepped up to start one.

It’s located in the Macon Housing Authority’s Family Investment Center across from the Davis Homes complex, near the Ocmulgee National Monument. Workers cleared out an old junk room and painted it bright blue and green for the program, which began Monday for students ages 6 to 17.

“I saw this room and knew that this was my calling,” said Roger Jackson, a former National Football League defensive back who is running the program, called Motivating Youth Foundation. “I’ve been a lot of places helping my teammates, going by speaking and talking to kids. I know exactly what (they) need,” said Jackson, a Macon native who attended Central High School.

These days, too many students don’t have role models or a safe place to go after school, Jackson said, or they don’t know how to stay healthy and motivated in school or where to get help with homework.

This is where the new program fills in. One goal is to help students with particular subjects and, in turn, help them score better on state-mandated exams.

“I normally went home and played my PlayStation 2 or talked on the phone,” said Robert Vinson, an eighth-grader at Ballard-Hudson Middle School who started attending this week. “Now I hope to get better in math.”

Students get tutoring from several retired teachers and members of Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Those enrolled in the program can take fitness training in an exercise room that has free weights, a treadmill and an elliptical machine. Dance and art lessons are offered on Fridays. The site also has two computer labs.

A bigger draw may be the recreation room with a flat-screen television, pool table, and foosball and air hockey machines that students can enter — only after their instruction and snacks.

“If Macon could implement similar programs in every section of the county for five years, they would see a decrease in the juvenile delinquency rates,” said Tom Hudson, a Bibb County school board member who also is helping out. “This gives students good character and good opportunities that will help us in the school system, too.”

The students will get coaching twice a week from different people, including Hudson, on life skills, dealing with relationships and avoiding drugs and gangs. Hudson is executive director of the Middle Georgia Council on Drugs.

Jackson, also a former NFL scout, got the idea for an after-school program after leading a summer football camp at Henderson Stadium and helping with a school supply drive. After learning that many after-school program cuts within the school system had affected several low-income schools in Macon, he worked with the housing authority and Family Investment Center workers to craft a proposal and apply for grants to start one.

The Community Foundation of Central Georgia, Elam Alexander Foundation and National Football League Youth Foundation awarded the program about $18,000 in funding, and another $60,000 in private donations has been raised. It also will provide services during school breaks and during the summer.

Joyce Sackor signed up her 6-year-old daughter, Shaniyah. Burdell-Hunt Elementary, where her daughter attends, had to close its after-school program this school year when funding ran dry.

“She has nowhere to go until I get off work,” Sackor said. “I think it’s something she’ll like and give her a little boost” academically.

“And it’s cheap.”

The program, located at 905 Main St. and open to all Bibb County students, costs parents $10 a month. About 30 students have enrolled so far, but the program can hold up to 100 students.