Hobson City after-school program fights to stay open
by Eddie Burkhalter
May 09, 2013 | 6653 views |  0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Raven Wright, left, Anissa Ball, center, and DeAsia Jackson work on their reading assignment Sable Learning Center in Hobson City. Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
Raven Wright, left, Anissa Ball, center, and DeAsia Jackson work on their reading assignment Sable Learning Center in Hobson City. Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
HOBSON CITY — A gunshot rang out in Hobson City on a Monday afternoon in July 2011, the bullet lodging in a wall of the Sable Learning Center, where inside 45 or so kids sat reading books.

The children were unharmed and the shooter arrested, but for center supporters, the incident served to underscore how desirable it is for the town’s children to have a safe place to gather. That advantage could now be in jeopardy, however, and some of those children might find themselves on the streets, according Maudine Holloway, director of Community Enabler Developer.

Holloway’s Anniston nonprofit, which oversees the center, has suffered for years from dwindling funds. As a result, she said, the center’s after-school program may end this year. The summer program will remain open for now, she said.

Where adults care

About 20 students receive help with homework and a meal each weekday at the center. In the summer, about 50 children will spend a full day there, getting three meals and guidance from a staff of teachers and volunteers.

Felicia Wright said she knows well the importance of the center for the kids that attend. Each of the 36-year-old mother’s four children has attended the center, where she works part time.

“For one, it keeps the kids off of the streets,” Wright said. “And that’s one of our main goals. These streets are real dangerous right now.”

Hobson City has been without a police department since 2007. The oldest black incorporated city in the state couldn’t afford to keep it operating, and just this week, under an agreement with the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department, a deputy began regular patrols of the town.

Wright, who attended the center herself as a young child, said the help children receive with schoolwork — and the mentoring they receive from adults who care — is too important to lose.

“For some of the kids, this place is probably the only place where they do their homework, where someone cares about them doing their homework,” Wright said.

Wright’s 10-year-old niece, Raven Wright, sat with her friends at the center Wednesday reading. She said the center helps her with her least favorite subject, and her math grades have improved as a result.

Raven loves to write there too, and said “Sometimes I make up my own stories.”

Test papers graded with perfect scores are tacked to a wall inside the center, proof, the teachers say, of the work their students are capable of.

The cost of care

Holloway’s hope was that I-20 Bingo, which opened in Hobson City in March, would save the center. The owner of the business, Larry Rogers, agreed to pay the nonprofit 10 percent of his proceeds.

Alabama law requires that bingo operators designate that percentage for charitable or educational purposes, after “reasonable” expenses are paid to run the games.

But that hasn’t happened yet. That’s because of low player turnout, Rogers said by phone Tuesday.

“Things are going slow because of the economy,” Rogers said.

Holloway recalled how years ago, thanks to the former I-20 Bingo, the center had plenty of money. Holloway’s husband, Cleve Holloway, ran the old bingo hall, but after his death in 2007 the business slowed until it closed several years ago, she said.

The building burned in 2010, and Holloway worries the new business is too small to bring in the same amount of money.

It costs around $46,000 each year to run the center, Holloway said. Heating costs in the winter and the need for more staff during the summer split that cost nearly evenly between the after-school and summer program, she said.

A fundraiser brings in about $10,000 for the learning center each year, Holloway said, and the rest of its funding comes from donations and the occasional grant.

The Anniston Community Educational Foundation awarded the learning center a $35,000 grant in 2007, but none since.

“We certainly could use it again,” Holloway said.

A $5,000 grant from the Oxford school district last year helped greatly, she said, but donations like that are impossible to count on, and come few and far between, she said.

In the years the center’s revenue falls short, Holloway has to pull from Community Enabler Developer to keep the doors open, but that agency has its own mission, she explained, helping low-income families with basic needs like food, clothing and utility assistance.

From 2007-11, the years in which tax records are available online, the Community Enabler Developer’s revenue declined each year except the last.

In 2007, the nonprofit received $157,000 in grants and donations. The following year that number fell to $139,000 and fell again in 2009 to $130,000. In 2010, the nonprofit brought in $129,000. Several grants boosted revenue to $177,000 in 2011.

The after-school program employs four part-time workers: one to prepare meals and three teachers.

In the summer, the number of workers will rise to six, Holloway said, adding “It’s going to be a tight squeeze just to get through the summer.”

Hobson City Mayor Alberta McCrory said she hopes money is found to keep the program going.

“And hopefully the city will be able to add to that,” McCrory said, though she said the town government hasn’t been able to make donations to the center in many years.

“I’ve watched some of those kids grow up to be successful young people,” McCrory said. “... That’s what that center is for, and we certainly don’t want to see anything happen to it.”

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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