Putting youth on path to success

Published 9:00 am Saturday, November 18, 2023

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LANETT — A group of Lanett area residents took part in a group discussion this week at the L.B. Sykes Community Center with the goal of creating a strategy for better outcomes for local youth. The purpose is to head off the one-way street many local youth appear to be on that leads to long-term incarceration.

Chief Denise McCain and Captain Patrick McCullough of the Lanett Police Department, local ministers, social workers with the Department of Human Resources (DHR), leaders with the court system and retired educators took part in the discussion.

Auburn University professor Dr. Hollie Cost was the program facilitator. She has personal knowledge about life in small-town Alabama having served as the mayor of Montevallo for eight years.

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Cost is affiliated with a private entity known as Keys to the City LLC. It’s a team of community development professionals that partners with communities both large and small to bring about positive, sustainable change. The effort specializes in addressing sensitive issues and overcoming barriers that are holding back communities from building a shared vision.

“It’s good to have a safe community where everyone understands the rules,” Cost sad. “We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with Lanett. It’s one of a number of communities where young people could have better outcomes.”

Lanett is one of three Alabama towns that have been recently approached by Keys to the City and talked to about community coaching. The others are Talladega and Jasper.

Among those present in the group discussion were Melissa Beck and Nan Burdette, who help people with substance abuse problems; Sandra Thornton, manager of the Lanett Senior Center; Gary Wright, a deacon at Pilgrim Baptist Church; the Rev. Kelsey Barnes, pastor at Goodsell Methodist Church, Lanett; the Rev. Vernon Carter, pastor of Berean Church International, Lanett; Tonya Morris of the Department of Human Resources and Trudye Morgan Johnson, a retired government worker from the Washington, D.C. area. Johnson spent 44 years in Maryland and returned to her hometown 16 years ago. She and her husband, who’s retired military, are active in an after-school tutoring program at L.B. Sykes. Mr. Johnson is a member of the West Point Development Authority.

Shirleye Greenwood told the group that she had grown up in Lanett and loved the town and its people but “it’s not the same place I grew up in.”

“I see things that break my heart,” she said. “We would love to see a change.”

Several people taking part in the discussion cited the need for more help for those with mental health issues.

Cost said Montevallo had its share of problems when she was active in city government there.

“We didn’t have a public defender,” she said. “We needed one and had to work to have one.”

Cost said that Keys to the City works with the Alabama League of Municipalities in helping cities in need of change.

“We want to prevent people being crippled to the point of poverty, and we’d like to help law enforcement,” she said. “We support law enforcement but want to help people from getting entangled in being repeat offenders.”

Cost said it’s important to be focused on solving things. She learned a lot about this in her tenure as mayor.

“It’s not good when people come in to complain and nothing gets solved,” she said. “We want to have a conversation, not a debate. Everyone can participate, but no one dominates.”

Keys to the City LLC aims to work with Alabama communities in building a shared vision. It seeks to work with local communities in building the capacity needed to better serve its citizens and to realize shared goals.