Youth retreat focusses on staying in school

By Barbara Grider
Staff Writer
Posted 6/20/07

LOXLEY — Marlo Edwards has been a Head Start teacher. She is now a substitute teacher in the Baldwin County schools, as she attends college to become a teacher. She often worries about the young people she encounters at school, in her church and …

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Youth retreat focusses on staying in school


LOXLEY — Marlo Edwards has been a Head Start teacher. She is now a substitute teacher in the Baldwin County schools, as she attends college to become a teacher. She often worries about the young people she encounters at school, in her church and in her community.

She worries that they will become members of a gang, become teenaged mothers, drop out of school or get involved in using and selling drugs. She’s seen the dire consequences of these situations. “I knew at least seven Loxley children that dropped out of school before school was out this year,” she said.

Last month, Edwards said, God put a burden on her heart to do something besides worry about the situation.

“I just couldn’t quit thinking about the young people and worrying and wondering what to do to make a difference in the lives of these young people, until God showed me the way,” she recalled.

Edwards had seen a powerful documentary video, “Inside Out,” in which young prison inmates tell their stories — stories that illustrate the poor choices often made by the uneducated and the dire consequences of those choices. She found the video and planned to have a showing of it at her church but, she said, God had something more in mind.

In a short time, Edwards, with the help of her church, the Greater Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Loxley, along with church and community volunteers, organized a youth retreat to tackle some of those issues, with the video serving as the opening for the program. The video was a springboard for a dialog between the speakers and the guests.

She lined up several guest speakers, got the video to show and even found a way to provide a pizza supper at not cost to the participants and then she made fliers and phone calls to pass the word.

Area children from ages 10 to 19 were invited to attend the event, held at the church on Boaz Road, last Saturday evening. Over 100 youth, parents and ministers from Atmore to Daphne to Foley attended the event.

The purpose of the youth retreat was to help the children understand the consequences of their acts, such as dropping out of school or becoming involved with drugs.

Marcus Gulley and his wife, Beverly, brought their four children from Atmore. Gulley, who is a deacon in his church, said he thinks it’s important to get those important messages out to children when they are still young.

“If you can get to the children when they are young, you have a good chance of guiding them to make the right decisions,” he said, adding that he was brought up “in the church” and he feels the influence of family and church can be very powerful.

For those who don’t have parents and a church, Gulley said, “We’ve got to reach out to them and help them and be a positive influence.”

The Rev. Tyrone Hartley of the Baldwin County Youth Detention Center in Bay Minette, talked about the young people he sees and about the things they had done and the consequences of those bad choices.

Melanie Wilks, the abstinence education director for the Family Resource Center in Robertsdale, talked about purity of mind and body and the importance of understanding not allowing their bodies to be used by others.

“The Family Resource Center is committed to the integrity and health of our Baldwin County youth. We want to empower our young people with a character-based education in regards to their sexual health,” Wilks said.

The Family Resource Center is a non-profit Christian organization that offers pre-pregnancy testing, parenting classes and character education for grades seven and eight in Baldwin County.

“Our goal is to help our young people understand the possible negative consequences of sex outside of marriage to their heart, mind and physical bodies,” Wilks explained. She said she was impressed with the youth retreat at Greater Missionary Baptist Church.

“Saturday night was a very powerful event with young people who responded and adults who were so willing to invest in your young people,” she said.

The Rev. Michael Thomas, the volunteer Chaplain of the Loxley Work Release program inmates, brought three inmates, two dressed in “jail whites” to speak to the children.

The inmates ranged in age from 25 to 32. One inmate has served almost 13 years for selling drugs, and all three were high school dropouts, although one has earned his GED while incarcerated, Thomas said.

“They talked about what it’s like to be in prison. They encouraged the young people to stay in school and to stay away from drugs, gangs, guns and the wrong crowd,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the children in the audience “responded real well” to the inmates and the stories of the choices they had made that had landed them in prison.

“It has a great impact on people when they come out from the prison system to speak to the community,” he said of the inmates who spoke.

Thomas said he was impressed with the youth retreat. “I think the program went well and I think we should have more programs like this,” he said.

As he was transporting the inmates back to prison, Thomas said they expressed appreciation at the opportunity to speak to the young people.

“It gave them a chance to do something good. It gave them a chance to give something back — and they got to eat pizza, too,” he said, with a laugh.

The Rev. Tim Amey, pastor of Greater Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church, praised Edwards’ efforts on behalf of the young people.

“Thank God for Sister Marlo. She had the heart and the vision to shake up the mind set of these young people and to help them see how important is is for them to stay in school,” he said.

The youth retreat was so well recieved that Edwards has been asked to organize another one next year.

“Hopefully, we’ll do it on June 16, 2008,” she said.