MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – The Goodwill Excel Center on Thousand Oaks Drive believes it’s never too late for Memphians to graduate.
In the City of Memphis, 40 percent of children under the age of 18 live in poverty, according to the annual Poverty Fact Sheet compiled by Dr. Elena Delavega of the School of Social Work at the University of Memphis and Dr. Gregory Blumenthal of GMBS Consulting.
Poverty, according to federal guidelines, is defined as a family of four living on less than $27,000 a year.
Studies show a link between poverty and violence, with education touted as the way to avoid a life of crime, but too many of our youth drop out of school.
More than 120 thousand adults in Shelby County do not have a high school diploma.
Goodwill Industries and the Memphis-Shelby County School system teamed up seven years ago to change that by creating a program that helps young people excel at life.
Inside the Goodwill Excel Center on Thousand Oaks Drive, hope is alive and well.
”It’s saving lives,” said student Jeremiah Dawson, “giving you an opportunity to have hope. And I’m one of those types of people who practices what you preach, and I don’t want my kids to come back and say, ‘Well, dad, you never finished school.’”
Dawson is a 31-year-old single father who grew up in Whitehaven as one of eight children raised by a single mother.
He said he dropped out of school in the tenth-grade.
Now, he’s proving you’re never too old to graduate.
”I’m going to tell you like I tell my mama,” he said with a grin, “I’m not going to toot no horns, I’m not going to whoop whoops until I walk across the stage. My job ain’t done until it’s done.”
Dawson’s on track to graduate in June, joining more than 900 others who’ve earned diplomas since the Excel Center opened in Memphis in 2015.
It’s one of 31 Excel Centers nationwide, and the only one in Tennessee.
It’s been so successful that there are plans to open three more in the state, including one in the Raleigh-Frayser area.
”So what we do here is build confidence in that student,” said Chuck Molinski, Vice President of the Goodwill Memphis Excel Center, “telling them you can do something because they’ve been told their whole lives they can’t. We change that mentality in the student. And I think that’s really important. It goes a long way.”
School Director Candis Dawson-Taylor said the Excel Center is open to those 18 and older, offering high school diplomas, college credit, and certification for a variety of careers, including nursing assistants, pharmacy techs, cosmetologists and commercial drivers.
Excel Center officials said 86 percent of their graduates are employed in higher-paying jobs or are enrolled in college.
”A lot of times, I hear students say they had to drop out just to provide for their family,” said school director Candis Dawson-Taylor, “So it’s very inspiring for me as the leader of this school because it helps you be able to see you’re giving hope to someone that thought everything was lost.”
Dawson takes advantage of the free on-site child care.
Free transportation is also provided by MATA.
Life coaches also work with students by helping them pursue a better way of life for themselves and their families.
“If you truly want to do something better with yourself,” said Dawson, “give it a chance. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime and it’s free. Give it a chance.”
The next term at The Excel Center starts Sept. 26. It offers accelerated courses to fit your schedule.
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