Community Partnership School program spawns hope, changes lives

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The Community Partnership School program is more than free food, clothes and tutoring. It changes lives.

It is a hub that creates opportunities and hope. It is a weapon to break the cycle of poverty by elevating the emotional, educational and physical well-being of children. By changing their courses early in life, they have a better chance to chase their dreams instead of being consumed by a community thick with despair, drugs, crime, excuses and pessimism.

By emphasizing what’s available in the future instead of dwelling on the shortcomings, children can prosper.

Northwest Middleburg and Clay Hill are considered one of the most economically deprived areas of Northeast Florida. But that’s not an excuse. It is a catalyst for change.

Last week, Wilkinson Junior High became just the 13th school in Florida to earn the prestigious UCF-Certified Community Partnership School designation, which will bring more resources to the school, including an on-campus healthcare clinic.

“We might have a higher percentage (of children in need) than some other schools, but something that I will continue to back this week and convey to them is we have some high expectations of these kids,” said incoming principal Nate Warmouth. “Dirt roads are not an excuse. Trailers are not an excuse. We provide opportunities, not just a handout.”

The results are tangible. Jessie Kelly, who started his freshman year at Middleburg High on Wednesday, was a product of the Community Partnership School programs.

He received food and tutoring. He also got the opportunity to work with the audio-visual department to create short films. One of them chronicled the benefits of the CPS programs at Wilkinson, and it wound up winning a statewide award.

“I’m really happy I attended community partnership school,” Kelly said. “It is an amazing program that helps anyone – students, faculty, families and community—not only me but many of my friends and classmates throughout these last few years. Whether it’s tutoring before or after school food and getaways counseling services, shopping for your clothes, doing laundry or going to the doctor’s office, the CPS staff is always here and ready to serve any student.”

Kelly took advantage of what CPS had to offer.

“I wasn’t very fortunate growing up,” he said. “CPS helped me with some of their services. They also introduced me to the Take Stock In Children program, and I was awarded a (two-year) scholarship (for college) as long as I maintain a 2.5 GPA as long as I don’t do drugs or alcohol. I definitely plan on doing that.”

Kelly once had an impossible goal of attending the University of Florida. Now it’s not only possible but probable.

“For my family to see me go to college, even just one year, is very difficult right now,” Kelly said. “So this was truly life-changing for me. It meant so much to me, and it was completely unexpected.

Kelly got another surprise during the Take Stock ceremony. Wilkinson CPS Director Shawn C. Smith reached through the curtain and handed him a new computer.

“She told me this should assist me and make things just a little easier as I navigated my way through high school,” Kelly said. “She didn’t know what it meant to get a new computer. She also said that they expect great things from me in the future. I went to deliver and make everybody proud.”

By simply breaking the cycle, Kelly has proven the Community Partnership School program works. And it changes lives.

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