Ed Grisamore

This Middle Georgia program gives hope for a better future for at-risk children

One of my favorite modern-day parables is about the little boy walking the beach at low tide. The sand is covered with starfish. He begins picking them up and tossing them into the ocean.

An old man approaches and asks what he is doing.

“Saving the starfish,’’ the boy said.

“But there are hundreds of them,’’ the man said. “There is no way you can make a difference.’’

The boy reaches down, clutches a starfish, and throws it into the water.

“There,’’ he said. “I made a difference to that one.’’

Dr. Erwin Clowers has been picking up “starfish” for more than 25 years. He has found them standing on street corners, huddled on basketball courts and scattered between the rows of red-brick buildings in public housing projects. His beaches have stretched across the inner city of Macon to the kaolin mines of Wilkinson County, the rolling hills around Monticello and movie backdrops of Covington.

He is making a difference … one at a time.

On Easter Sunday, church pews will be filled with worshipers. They will hear sermons about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It has been a message of hope for more than 2,000 years.

Hope is the cornerstone for Men About Change, a program for at-risk children. Clowers helped found the organization in 1993 and has rekindled it a number of times in a number of places over the past three decades.

Every morning, he reports for work at Riley Elementary, where he is the lead teacher in the Program for Exceptional Children. It’s the job he is paid to do.

Every afternoon, he joins about 10 volunteers who pick up children from local elementary and middle schools and take them to the after-school program at the Glorious Hope Baptist Church on Napier Avenue.

There is no paycheck at the end of the week, but the rewards are everywhere.

“I am trying to make a difference in a child’s life they might not otherwise have,’’ he said.

Looking at their faces, he sees a reflection of himself. He gets emotional when he remembers growing up in Bloomfield and Tindall Heights. Although he was from a single-parent home, he was fortunate to have father figures step in and fill that void.

Teachers and coaches at Ballard-Hudson Middle School and Southwest High School made sure he kept his nose clean and his shirt tucked in. He attended Fort Valley State College, then transferred to Mercer, where he received his degree in finance. He later chose the education field for the opportunity to teach and coach.

In 1993, he was on the ground floor of a new mentor program at McEvoy Middle School. The male teachers got together and called it Men About Change.

“We targeted low-achievers with academic problems because academic problems become behavior problems,’’ he said.

The program had its ups and downs while trying to find its equilibrium in the myriad of social agencies that work with at-risk young people.

He carried the blueprint with him when he held teaching and coaching positions in Monticello and Wilkinson County. When he was hired in Covington in 2012, Men About Change had yet another change of address.

The children sold Krispy Kreme donuts to raise money. It they behaved, worked hard and kept up their grades, he often got tickets to Atlanta Hawks, Braves and Falcons games.

Clowers took two sixth-grade boys under his wing – Daniel Lavelle and Antoine Davis.

“My dad passed away when I was 10, so Dr. Clowers was like a dad to me,’’ Lavelle said “He molded me into the man I am today. He taught me how to present myself, how to tie a tie, to be places on time and how to talk to people.’’

When Clowers returned to teaching in Bibb County, Lavelle and Davis joined him. Lavelle will graduate from Mary Persons High School on May 24. He is now 6-foot-4, 260 pounds and received more than a dozen college football scholarship offers. Clowers drove him to his summer football camps. He signed with the University of Akron.

Davis practically was homeless until Clowers became his legal guardian. He was a sixth-grader reading on a second-grade level. In middle school, when he had no place to lay down his head at night, he often slept in an arena across from the school

Clowers worked closely with Roger Jackson, executive director of Motivating Youth Foundation in east Macon, to get Men About Change jump-started again five years ago. His son, Antowin Clowers, a former walk-on football player at the University of Georgia, also has helped him with the program.

Now, more than 60 elementary and middle school students gather after school on weekdays at Glorious Hope Baptist. They enjoy a hot meal, participate in character building exercises and keep pace with their homework. Sometimes, Clowers sends the boys across the street at Brookdale to get haircuts. On Wednesdays, the young people have a bible study with Glorious Hope Senior Pastor John Herring.

Men About Change (MAC) is no longer exclusive to males. About one-third of the students are young ladies, so now there is Women About Change, too

“We’re no longer just MAC,’’ Clowers said, chuckling. “We’re MACWAC.’’

There always will be starfish.

Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.