Group looks to pool resources

Monday, March 19, 2007

The leaders of the River Corridor Task Force want to make it clear they are not just another organization aimed at helping Cape Girardeau's southside. This, they say, is an organization to marshal already existing resources to help children and families on both the southside and the Red Star area further north.

"We really are not trying to create another program to help South Cape. What we're trying to do is identify the needs and what exists already. Then we can create an activity plan to allow individuals that serve the community to have a kind of road map," said NaTika Rowles, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Cape Girardeau and a committee leader for the task force.

The task force has met three times and divided into committees evaluating what facilities, programs, relationships and funding exist and what is still needed. The task force received $10,000 in start-up money from Proctor & Gamble.

Leaders say one of the group's major goals is to bridge the gap in high school graduation rates between black and white students. Less than 60 percent of black students at Central High School graduate, compared with 85 percent of their white counterparts.

The task force believes the solution starts with providing constructive activities on the southside after school hours.

"I see it and you probably do too if you drive down in that area. When kids get out of school you'll see a whole bunch of them gathered places and they're not necessarily getting into trouble, but that's where the trouble starts. They're not doing things that are necessarily productive," said Rowles.

Nancy Jernigan of the United Way agrees. "The status of our folks in South Cape has been an issue ... ever since I've lived her, and shame on us for not addressing it sooner."

Jernigan believes many of the needed programs are already in place, but they are either underfunded, understaffed or hard to access. She points to the Boys & Girls Club on Broadway and the Cape Area Family Resource Center and Salvation Army, both on Sprigg Street, as organizations already addressing the needs of area youths.

However, both Rowles and Jernigan said each organization has limitations preventing it from serving the number of young people it potentially could.

For example, the Boys & Girls Club has afterschool programs, but is on Broadway, a long walk for children who live on the opposite side of Highway 74.

"It's just not conducive to serving youth in those areas," Rowles said. She also said its facilities are old and inadequate and the club is considering a move.

The Salvation Army, on the other hand, has a spacious, new building with a gym. But it is not open most days after school.

"They have this big beautiful building, but their culture is not to have tons of staff. We've spoken to the majors and they said it's the Salvation Army culture to have skeleton staff, so they don't have staff for open gym every day after school," said Jernigan, who added there are two SA officers associated with the task force who would like to see the building used more frequently.

The Family Resource Center has a solid afterschool program, determined the group, but it struggles with low funding. Also, because the FRC has other programs aimed at helping families and the elderly, youth issues are not its only priority.

The task force believes that if all these resources can collaborate and leverage the community for better funding, there might be the start of an answer to the problems facing teenagers.

"I clearly see that collaboration is going to be the key," said Jernigan.

The task force's next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. April 9 at the Salvation Army building.

335-6611, extension 241

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