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Youth Development Training Center in works in Blytheville


Tuesday afternoon, city of Blytheville leaders, State Representative Monte Hodges (D-Blytheville), Mississippi County Judge John Alan Nelson and several pastors and community leaders gathered at the new Allied Center for Technologies conference room at Arkansas Northeastern College to brainstorm for a Blytheville Youth Development Training Center.

Blytheville Mayor James Sanders opened the meeting by saying, “Thank you, Dr. [James] Shemwell and of course you Dr. [Blanche] Hunt, for even just as much as entertaining this meeting today. Again it’s been said over and over again but thank you all for being here. County Judge, I definitely want to recognize you for all that you are doing for this community and our state representative, Mr. Hodges, you as well. What this is about is is that it is staring us ladies and gentleman right in our faces. It really is. First of all Arkansas Northeastern College has been the pinnacle of everything that’s going to create or reduce poverty in this area. We, coming into office back in 2011, presented with a term — Dr. Hunt and I keep talking about it — and it is called ‘poverty pimp’. It’s where people are utilizing the poverty and then getting rich off of that, but then instead of us trying to just invest and to continue investing as Arkansas Northeastern College has done.”

Sanders continued, “But where we are now and looking at this last investment that has come in with Judge Nelson is to invest now in our people capital. We’ve been successful in getting jobs. We’ve been successful in getting people into our community. But it’s the people capital now that we need to actually invest in to grow our community. The numbers have already been reflected even last year when we were talking about the decreasing population that is happening here in Mississippi County. It is because people are going to other places or coming out of other places to get the jobs and work here.”

Sanders also mentioned that a lot of the programs have been to bring adults to college. He added that it has worked but it will work better if you start with children.

He highlighted the city of Dell’s community center and how successful it was.

Sanders added that the crime in Blytheville is due to the “apathy of the children” in the community.

“We got crime that has been identified on our streets all because of the apathy of our children within our community,” Sanders said. “What my dream is and I have talked to Dr. Hunt and Dr. Shemwell too is to try and sit down together and try to put together a plan by which we can enrich our children and prepare them.”

Sanders complemented the work New Mount Olive Church and the Samaritan Ministries have done at the Old YMCA building but there hasn’t been any “significant” investments to bring the children out of poverty.

“There hasn’t been any significant investments done toward or put directly towards our children and creating an influence in our children to bring them out of poverty,” said Sanders. “We don’t want to stay in that same rut or that same cycle. That where you’ve got to graduate high school before I actually start working with you. Is that what we are saying? We need to catch our young children, our youth, while they are young. Let them interact with different ethnic groups, different classes. Let them see people within our community that’s out there actively pursuing a community job and as a young person still being able to give their ideas to this community, because folks whether we like it or not we are on our way out. It may be a coined phrase but children are our future. That is our future… we need to be investing in our children.”

Sanders went on to say after speaking with leaders last week in Little Rock the children need a place to go and grow. He stated they would be partnering with the community and ANC to try and move in the direction of investing in people capital.

ANC employee Willie Williams added the need for this is there.

Local attorney Curtis Walker, Jr., who also coaches Odyssey of the Mind with his father, said that the OM program needs invested in. He added that future CEO’s are coming out of the program and he said that the kids go up against big countries and many of them think Blytheville is “little.”

“I see the kids that our kids go up against and they think that is little ol’ Blytheville but this little ol’ Blytheville makes some noise when we go there,” Walker explained. “So, we’ve got the kids and they’ve got all the potential in the world. You just have to cultivate them. I see the kids and how much they have grown. It’s amazing the growth I’ve seen with these kids. I’m all for doing for these kids and cultivating them and letting them know it can be done and that in ol’ Blytheville it can be done. There is a lot of good that comes out of Blytheville.”

Dr. Blanche Hunt said the difference between a youth development training center and a community center is that a youth development training center will train the youth and highlight the children.

Hunt stated that she has been wanting to do this for 35 years now and now sees adults that she taught who have made a difference in others’ lives and it makes her proud, because she knows that she had a part in shaping them as children.

Hunt added that children need to be taught unity and that “we are all one race and that is the human race.”

Former Mayor of Dell Kenny Jackson, Hodges and Tamika Jenkins from the county’s economic development office spoke on ways to fund the project through federal and state grants. Jackson added that Senator Dave Wallace was unable to attend the meeting due to meetings in Little Rock but he has also been looking into ways to fund the project.

Judge Nelson said he knows this project can be successful and that he believes if they were to concentrate on 8-10 year-olds, they’d be able to see some small results and in 20 years there would be some big results.

“I think today is the day that we start and we break this generational poverty and I know that we can do it,” Nelson explained. “The other side of it is that if we don’t do it, it will be our fault, because who else’s fault is it. Because these are the leaders right here and it will be us. I think I counted 20 [people at the meeting]. This is where the blame will be if we don’t stop. I don’t know when it will be but I believe we can eradicate poverty. Can you imagine what this place will look like if we can eradicate and we can build it off of this real estate right here? This is the only place that we got is education.”

Shemwell stated that his plans would be two to four locations in Blytheville, which would be in houses throughout Blytheville.

“What I picture is not some grand gymnasium. What I picture is not one center. The mayor talked about all of these empty houses, these empty buildings, and these empty churches. And we talked about urgency and making this happen and you’re right, it’s a dream to think we are just going to find some grant money that is going to pay for all of this,” Shemwell explained. “There is going to be some match there but if we are going to do this it’s going to be realistic and we want to get it done. Not something that we are talking about five years from now, then we need think smart and we need to think modestly.”

Shemwell continued, “What I picture, two, three, maybe four locations in Blytheville, that’s a home. We aren’t going to leave it in current condition. Outside it will look like a show place and something nice in that neighborhood. There will be people there maybe not all day every day but enough that there is activity there and it’d have security. So that it would be a deterrent from people trying to break into that property, destroy that property. The predators you are talking about that don’t want these things to happen. That’s what I see and when you talk about the dollar and cents on that we aren’t talking about a whole lot of money. The money really will be involved in the human resource and to get that done I think to get it started we need a lot of volunteer work to get that done. That’s what I picture.”

Shemwell added that ANC will make an investment in this project and went on to add that one location will not service Blytheville and that is why he thinks there needs to be multiple locations.

Sanders agreed they have to use everything they already have and bring it all together.

“Everything is sitting in the kitchen, we just have to put it together,” Sanders said.

Councilman John Mayberry said he believes the taxpayers would be behind them to build a center.

“If we are going to do something lets do first class,” Mayberry said. “If we are going to build something build it. Just like they are building this nice new gym and our people can be proud. Our people can see we are putting our best foot forward and we are trying to do something.”

The next meeting date has not been set yet but Sanders wants to meet next month. Shemwell stated the meeting place could continue to be at the Allied Tech Building.