Fresh Start, founder honored at celebration

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The proclamation of "Charlie McAfee Day" and a speech by former consultant to the City of Niles Bert Stitt were among the highlights of the 10-year anniversary of the Fresh Start Program on Thursday night.
The celebration was held at the program's base of operations located at the Michiana Christian Embassy.
The Fresh Start Program is designed to help expelled students to return to the regular school program as productive, well-behaved individuals. It was born 10 years ago as a result of the Multicultural Involvement Council.
The night began with an introduction and welcome from Master of Ceremonies and one of Fresh Start's founders Charlie McAfee.
She introduced the celebration's first speaker Niles Mayor Michael McCauslin, who elaborated on the program's significance to the Niles community.
McCauslin said the program is important because it gives these students a "chance to redirect their lives."
He ended his speech by inviting McAfee to join him on stage for a special proclamation.
To McAfee's surprise, he declared Jan. 15 to be "Charlie McAfee Day" in the City of Niles due to her civic endeavors and dedication in the community.
When McCauslin left the stage, McAfee was at a loss for words and simply said "all I can say is thank you."
Fresh Start program director Cindy Stokes and Multicultural Involvement Council secretary Tiffiney Gray then came to the stage to recognize all of the people who have made donations and volunteered their time to the program.
This was followed by Niles Community Schools Superintendent and Multicultural Involvement Council Board Member Doug Law, who recognized the other board members and the entire Fresh Start staff.
Law said he was "extremely proud of the program and the lives they have changed."
He went on to present McAfee with a plaque on behalf of Niles Community Schools for her "outstanding dedication" to the program.
Multicultural Involvement Council trustee Osceola Skinner provided the introduction for the celebration's guest speaker Bert Stitt.
Skinner said around ten years ago the City of Niles was going through some economic difficulty and they looked to hire a consultant to help with the community's problems. That consultant was Bert Stitt.
Stitt came to Niles a decade ago and attempted to find a solution to the city's difficulties.
One of things that came out of Stitt's time in Niles was the Multicultural Involvement Council.
Stitt's speech centered on the power of vision and words in community life.
He talked about the importance of having members of all cultures involved in the community building process.
Stitt went onto talk of the importance of programs like Fresh Start.
The final remarks of the evening came from Multicultural Involvement Council chairperson Mary Crayton, who said Fresh Start exemplified the concept that it takes a village to raise a child.
She said the program proves that even though a student is expelled, our community still cares about them.

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