The newest IMAD project is set to open next Monday at the Argus Shearer Center on Hout Circle. The afterschool program will be geared to kindergarten through fifth grade students who need assistance with reading and math, “but we won’t turn anyone away,” IMAD Director Phillip Brown said last week during an organizational meeting with local volunteers.

“Through experience we’ve learned that we start with them young and walk all the way through junior high and high school. We’re going to follow them all the way, but we want to start with teaching them to read.”

A mentor program will be established for the older students as well. “My goal is to keep the kids out of the street. If I can get them out of the street and involved in something positive, they’ll be okay.” Brown says a majority of the students want to be there and he knows that all kids need nourishment, to be loved and they need attention. “We have kids in high school, they’re the worst when it comes to not having direction at home because once they get to a certain age some parents let them fend for themselves. If they want to come they can come.”

IMAD ExCel has been a dream of Brown’s for years, he explained to attendees who gathered at the once vacant property last Monday evening. A tour of the facility impressed those who had never been in the building. An office environment has already been established in one room, while volunteers have been cleaning and clearing out other rooms to be used for classrooms and activities. A technology room is fully equipped with computers donated by the school that were once acquired by the Gear Up grant. “Twenty years ago this was state of the art equipment,” Newport Police Chief Allen Edwards commented. The kitchen is at least twice the size of the Calhoun Street center and will be utilized for a feeding program for the children and senior citizen meals.

Brown explained that the program has been working to develop a plan for the facility for quite some time. He has reached out to retired teachers to assist and announced that at least nine have assured they will be willing to help tutor, read and work with the students throughout the year. “I just told them, ‘If you have any time, no set schedules, just show your face, come in and help us out, whatever you can do’,” Brown said. “For the retired teachers to come out is a big move.”

IMAD has been known for its community service as an organization and desire to help the elderly and youth of the community. By acquiring the facility on Hout Circle, they look to reestablish the feeding program that essentially ended for the area when the Senior Center moved to the property beside Unity Health. “I think a lot of their reason for moving was crime problems and things like that,” Chief Edwards explained. “By pulling it away, we lost a valuable asset that a lot of residents utilized on a daily basis.” Edwards explained that many residents in the area do not have reliable transportation and the distance is too far for someone in poor health to walk. “We worked hard with the housing authority trying to get this done,” he added. “I just see the potential for it.”
“I’ve been walking the neighborhood and knocking on doors,” Brown added. “They’re excited about us moving back here.”

With the computer lab that will be available comes a plethora of opportunity for both the young and older. Wifi has been established and with the help of Pastor Brown the computer lab will be brought up-to-date and offer opportunity for research, resume building, job search, email access, and more.

“The schools have gone to the chrome books and iPad, but it doesn’t do any good if you don’t have some way of accessing it,” Edwards said about the need for wifi in the facility. “How are you supposed to do your homework and work on your afterschool duties and projects, knowing you’re having to rely on someone else? Maybe it’s an unsafe environment to be in to get the wifi service. It’s not readily available to everyone. Here it will be.”

According to Brown, the computer lab will be accessible for the community as a whole as they want to offer the ability for senior citizens to learn computer skills, parents to learn how to pay bills online, access student records and more. “Being able to be a full service organization is our goal. It’s going to take all of us to make it happen. I feel like it’s up to us to make sure that we take this torch and run with it because this doesn’t happen every day. Not just for IMAD, but for anybody, this doesn’t just happen where people believe in you enough and they’re willing to get behind you because they see your vision and believe in it.”

“I really like this room,” Annie Solis said. “Computers are the gateway to the future. Kids can build resumes, apply for jobs, apply for college and have the guidance to do that.”

Edwards admits when IMAD began he was as skeptical as anybody was. “I didn’t know what it was about, but I thought, ‘Well, before I form an opinion let me educate myself about it’ and that’s what I tried to do. I think with the results that he has had, especially with the Calhoun Street area, and the impact I have seen him make in that community, this is a no-brainer. “

The chief told those in attendance that the use of the building in a positive manner would be a progressive step to change. “We’ve seen a lot of terrible things happen in this area, and we’ve seen some great things. There are a lot of people that don’t have any other choice but to raise a family here and they deserve to raise that family in safety. I know Phillip’s vision. I know he’s working toward a better education, better opportunities for our youth, but the biggest thing I see is a safe place for kids to go, for them to grown, for them to have a brotherhood and be able to be successful in a safe environment. I hope this is not locked up and there is not a chain around the building. I hope that it busts out the windows and spreads through the community of the opportunity for positive things.”

“Our job at IMAD, our goal, is to impress these kids more than the local dope boy, your local petty thief, or whomever. It’s our job to impress them with all of this stuff. They see us working hard, progressing, being able to take them places no one else has been able to take them, show them things no one else has been able to show them. That’s how we connect with them,” Brown said.

The afterschool program will run with the school schedule, observing spring and winter breaks at the same time. The summer program will last all summer with a short break in order to keep the students engaged. IMAD and the Newport School District are working on a bus system to bring students from the school to the facility and transport them home if transportation is not available.

For more information on IMAD or how to volunteer your time, contact Phillip Brown at 870-664-6643.