If you were ever to ask what my theory on life is I would reply by saying, “That the greatest gift in life is the chance to plant a seed and then watch it grow.” Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to experience this gift while working with All Walks of Life Incorporated leading the organization’s video production projects, but more importantly serving as a mentor to countless youth. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the program, AWOL Inc. is a non-profit organization that uses poetry, hip-hop and life experiences to promote self awareness within at-risk youth. My passion for working with AWOL Inc. is so great because the organization has played a vital role in my life–from high school to college and now as an adult. There is no doubt about it–my experience with AWOL Inc. has been irreplaceable!
My involvement with AWOL Inc. has allowed me to watch as students build meaningful relationships, are exposed to the arts, presented with travel opportunities and grow as individuals. Believe it or not, AWOL Inc. has a special way of tapping into young people and encouraging them to live up to their true potential. There is just something about being in a hip-hop environment which is often frowned upon and then being coached to produce nothing but positive energy through the use of theater, film, sound design and a host of other tools! The environment serves as an escape from the violence that surrounds, peer pressures that exists and a way to keep youth from the trouble that is so easy to find. Programs like AWOL Inc. are at times overlooked, but are essential in the community.
Running a non-profit organization is never an easy task. As an AWOL employee I understand that much more than I did as a participant. As a teenager I never knew when issues existed, when budget cuts were being made or when the organizers or staff members were stressed. Thankfully, these individuals saw the bigger picture and were passionate about working with youth and the overall mission. Unfortunately, a business cannot run on the foundation of passion alone. As an adult, I was so optimistic that an abundance of funds would appear out of nowhere and a miracle would take place. However, they did not appear and I have accepted the reality that AWOL Inc.’s doors are closing. At this point my concern is for the youth of Savannah who rely on AWOL Inc for a sense of security.
On December 21, AWOL Inc. will hold its last event in Savannah, GA and then transition to another city. Everyone knows I’m an emotional individual…especially when it comes to AWOL Inc. So I will admit…I’m heart broken along with my students, but I understand the reasons and I respect the decisions. My current group of students will have seven days left to complete their final project and reveal to the world why AWOL has been so powerful in their lives. They will have just seven days to say farewell to the program that has provided them with a stage to show their talent to the world and helped them to discover their purpose in life.
Plant a seed and watch it grow–its the way AWOL Inc. has operated and the beauty of the program is watching the seeds that were planted grow so quickly and still so beautifully. The opportunity to watch students learn, grow and then acknowledge their personal growth has been amazing. As my students have been working on their project, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to students discuss how much of an impact AWOL Inc. has had on their lives and what this transition will mean for each of them. It’s powerful and the crazy part is that these kids are more concerned for the youth that will never have the opportunity to experience AWOL Inc.
I promised to get to the heart of the matter each entry, so here it is: Countless youth in Savannah will now have one less organization to turn to as an escape and will never experience the environment that AWOL has offered for more than 10 years. Believe it or not, that is a serious issue. The Department of Juvenile Justice will now have one less alternative program in Savannah to use for referrals. So here’s the question I am posing: Who will create a new environment that reaches out to this group of youth? But more importantly who will assure that programs like AWOL Inc. remain in the city of Savannah and cater to at-risk youth?
I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason and life always comes full circle. So for now, I’ll dry my eyes and keep the words of Dr. Seuss close to me. “Don’t cry because its over, smile because it happened.” Although this transition is unfortunate, I can smile as I’m thankful for my experience with AWOL Inc. I am thankful for all of the people who poured into my life, but more importantly for the opportunity to pour into the lives of some of Savannah’s most talented youth.
I challenge you to enjoy life’s greatest gift–plant seeds and watch them grow…