Tuesday, May 18, 2010

After-school Program Develops Mind, Character

/PRNewswire/ -- He's spreading the word, instilling hope, reaching at-risk youth through academic enrichment.

Tony Lowden knows what to do for the 800 students who participate in after-school programs at Campus Clubs in Macon, Georgia, because he was once on the receiving end of such support. Growing up in the Philadelphia ghettos, he lacked hope and, for a while, purpose.

His ticket out of the ghettos and onto a path of opportunity and success was delivered by his aunt, with an assist from above.

"My aunt saved my life. She basically saved me. She introduced me to Christ," says Lowden. "My walk with Christ became stronger as I watched more African-American males die from gangs and drugs. I wanted to one day be in a position to do more to prevent some of that."

Lowden's path to youth service was not a direct route. He enjoyed a brief professional baseball career and then fashioned a career as a successful businessman. Yet something was missing. That's when he rose from the comforts of his stable career and a top salary to become a youth pastor.

Eventually, he became Executive Director of Campus Clubs, which serves the academic and spiritual needs of Macon youth via programs that run from 3 p.m. to as late as 8:30 and include snacks and dinner.

"When they get out of school at three o'clock, their education stops," Lowden said of the way things used to be. "Most of their families can't afford computers. It is criminal to have 80 percent of kids in a city who don't have access to the information highway."

Campus Clubs' twenty-first-century learning centers are changing that. The centers are funded through donations and grants and offer training in the latest software and engaging curricula in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) from Pitsco Education. Several satellite after-school programs have sprung up in other parts of Georgia, but Lowden has his nets poised for casting over a broader area.

"We believe that the model we have could be the model for after-school programs across the country," he said. "We build robots and rockets and learn about math, science, and other subjects."

Engaging curricula is only part of the equation. Many children from broken homes and poverty aren't usually rooted in faith and morals, so Campus Clubs addresses that deficit with its church-based programs.

A firm believer that government and public education should not advocate the practice of faith, Lowden says those entities should not run from religion either. All parties can coexist with a common goal of raising up at-risk youth and empowering them to one day serve as community leaders.

"Eventually, the cities and government will say that Martin Luther King was right. Education is about intelligence and building character," Lowden says. "Character comes from a spiritual foundation."

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