Fresh Start bids farewellPublished 10:38pm Wednesday, October 17, 2012
For the past 18 years, the Fresh Start Program has given a second chance to more than 200 Niles-area students looking to get back into school after being expelled.
Due to a lack of funding and interest, the program’s board of directors made the decision to close its doors for good in early August.
Co-founder Charlie McAfee, who has volunteered with the program since the beginning, said he is sad to see it go.
“We want everyone to know how much we appreciate them and their support, and we want to thank them for all the years they stood with us,” McAfee said.
“It was very difficult for me, and it still is,” said Cindy Stokes, Fresh Start program director and co-founder. “My heart was there … I am going to miss the connection with the students.”
The Fresh Start Program was created in 1994 by McAfee, Stokes and Mary Cross as a way to provide educational opportunities for students who have been expelled from public schools.
Using small class sizes, volunteers helped students with their education, behavior and self-esteem.
“It wasn’t just about school,” McAfee said. “It was about keeping them interested in education and returning them to a traditional setting as productive and well-behaved individuals.”
Stokes said more than 90 percent of students enrolled in the program returned to public schools. Many went on, she said, to attend college and have successful careers.
“Were we saving the world? No, but we helped change the lives of a lot of kids, and that’s what it was all about,” Stokes said.
Fresh Start was first located in the old Ferry Street School in Niles, but moved in 2000 to the Michiana Christian Embassy Church, where it remained until its closing.
Fresh Start took in students from Niles, Buchanan, Brandywine, Eau Claire and Berrien Springs.
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