Bright Star inspires underserved youth

IEA-Inspire, Encourage, Achieve recently hosted its 20th Camp Bright Star Closing Ceremony Luncheon at Paul A. Brown Learning Center High School. The program recognized 21 IEA youth who completed 100 hours of a five-week Summer Learning Initiative.

In partnership with the Jefferson County Juvenile Probation Department and other community sponsors, and named after Bright Star in recognition of Entergy’s initial support in 2004, this endeavor empowers at-risk youth during the summer months, when they are most vulnerable to unhealthy behaviors. The program enhances participants’ summer schedule by introducing a variety of mentors who engage the youth in structured activities focused on promoting healthy living, including drug/alcohol awareness, mental health awareness, art therapy, counseling, career awareness , academic enrichment, and physical fitness.

Supporters in attendance at the event included IEA Board Member Bishop Emeritus Curtis J. Guillory, who assisted a camper with an opening prayer, Board members, Beaumont Police Commissioner Jimmy Singletary, service dog Bozzie, who visited attendees, Dr. J. Coffy Pieternelle and former juvenile parole officer Bubba Martin.

ExxonMobil Beaumont Area Public and Government Affairs Manager Nakisha Burns was the event’s keynote speaker and encouraged the audience by sharing her life experiences, including a childhood of poverty followed by a successful adulthood.

“What you see today isn’t who I always was,” Burns shared. The woman, who is now at the forefront of her field and is now working on her PhD, told the youngsters in attendance that education was her way out of a difficult life that could have been hers if she had let her future dictate her circumstances.

“I started from very humble beginnings,” Burns said, pointing to the cheap basement shoes she had to wear to school while being taunted by her classmates, unable to afford a haircut and living with her grandparents in a poverty-stricken neighborhood drugs and prostitution. “I’ve seen and experienced a lot in my neighborhood.”

Burns said she was inspired through the trying times by her religious beliefs, her educational foundation and a dream to one day shake her current regalia and rise above the hand that had been granted to her.

“Even if no one else believes in you, you have to believe in yourself,” she urged Bright Star attendees. “Be selfish in your goals; no one limits you but yourself.

“You can be whatever you want.”

This year’s camp theme was “Cultivate the best self I can be!” The focus is on programming in Literacy, STEM, Arts, Music and Physical Health and Wellness. Participants were also exposed to sessions on street law, civic engagement, technology, job training and career exploration, workouts at the Beaumont Police Department fitness center/boxing ring adjacent to the IEA offices, field trips and other pro-social activities.

“Our mission is to provide services with compassion, understanding and love in a rehabilitative setting that helps youth gain self-respect and dignity,” said Regina Rogers, Founder and Chair of the IEA. “We are thrilled to be able to help our young people develop their talents and let them know that we care about them and are here to support them, whatever their circumstances and challenges.”

Interim Executive Director of the IEA, Imogene Chargois, who said she had been a board member for 20 years before accepting her new role, pressed the IEA staff, the BISD and Jefferson County Juvenile Parole Director Ed Cockrell and his probation officers their recognition for their commitment. She said she knew the IEA had an important role to play in the community but did not realize the depth of her achievements until she came on board in this new position.

“It takes a whole village,” Chargois said.

For more information about the program or to volunteer, call (409) 839-8778 or visit www.ieainspires.org.

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