Joni Barlow gives a presentation, using a projector slideshow, as she shares with classmates her experiences in the community service learning course at Patrick Henry High School.
By Johnny Jackson
Joni Barlow was visibly emotional as she shared the lessons she had learned over the past semester at Patrick Henry High School, in Stockbridge.
"Even though you think you don't deserve it, because of the bad things you did," said Barlow. "God believes you do."
This, the student said, is what she takes away from the school's community service learning class. The class is now two semesters old, and has graduated roughly two dozen students, who are progressing toward becoming active citizens and community leaders, according to the school's community service learning instructor, Don Dunlap.
Some did not make it this year, but most did, said Dunlap. He said a dozen of the 18 students who signed up this semester for Patrick Henry's community service learning class, will graduate Wednesday, April 27.
"It's much greater than the sum of its parts," he said. "They really have been transformed in learning about the opportunities in the community for them to give of themselves."
Dunlap said the community service learning class is built on national standards, so students earn academic course credit for taking it. However, it was born out of a collaboration between the school and the Turning Point Church, an 8-year-old, 700-member McDonough congregation.
"It was just an open door," said Turning Point Pastor Michael Turner, as he recalled the process of partnering with the school to provide no-cost mentoring, and volunteer opportunities, to students at the alternative school.
The partnership to build community leaders at Patrick Henry began with a challenge Turner said he posed to his youth minister, Brad Post.
"I sent Brad on an assignment to find out what are the needs of our community," Turner said. "A common thread was a need for teen mentoring. We call it 'Dream Builders' at our church.
"What's cool is that I was this kid in high school," he added. "I came from a single-parent home, and almost every young man here does not have that relationship with their father."
The partnership began during the 2010 Spring Semester at Patrick Henry. Students voluntarily met after school with members of Turning Point and volunteered on weekends for various community service projects.
Dunlap said the school began to implement the class during the 2010 Fall Semester. The Patrick Henry instructor said he has seen some students transform from apathetic individuals, into community-oriented citizens who value and care for other people in need. For those students, he said, the community's needy become less like distant objects, and more like three-dimensional people worth being helped.
"I talk about our students graduating and becoming good, contributing members of our community. I think that's the goal of education," said Dunlap, of his motivation to create the partnership.
Some students, like Jon Wilson, Trey Johnson, and Kameron Thacker, acknowledged the obstacles they were asked to overcome in order to become better citizens. Many of them related to the community leaders who were invited to speak to the class this semester.
"Everyone has a purpose in life, even though you don't see it at the moment," said Thacker.
Henry County Board of Commissioners Chairman Elizabeth 'B.J.' Mathis and Stockbridge Mayor Lee Stuart spoke of their respective pasts in the youth ministry and the military, and what inspired them to become public servants.
"We learned that the choices you make now affect your future. And if you're passionate about something, you'll do it for free," noted student, Brandi Hargis.
Students freely volunteered their Wednesday afternoons to listen to the community leaders. On weekends, they helped to repair homes through the Henry County Fuller Center for Housing.
"It's more than a community service class," declared student, Ashley Swint. "You learn a lot more than that."