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VOL. 126 | NO. 164 | Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Agape Launches GED Pilot Program

By Aisling Maki

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The Bluff City has been an active player in the Talent Dividend, an initiative to increase the number of college graduates in the Memphis Metropolitan area by 1 percent over the next five years, which could generate a $1 billion annual increase in personal income.

Agape Child & Family Services executive director David Jordan, from left, Karla Davis and Kristee Bell celebrate the recent GED pilot program graduation.
(Photo: courtesy of Agape)

But a new pilot program spearheaded by the Memphis nonprofit Agape Child & Family Services is taking that goal a step further by making sure more people have the educational credentials such as the General Educational Development test to get into college in the first place.

“We’re engaged with the Leadership Memphis and the Talent Dividend and have a partnership with them, but there’s also data around GED/high school graduation rates and what it means for jobs and an increase in pay, and then for junior college and college attainment,” said David Jordan, Agape’s longtime executive director. “Getting a GED makes someone more marketable.”

Last week, about 50 residents of the city’s Whitehaven neighborhood graduated from an Agape-led GED pilot program during a ceremony at Boulevard Church of Christ, 4439 Elvis Presley Blvd.

Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development commissioner Karla Davis spoke at the graduation ceremony.

“It was very gratifying to get to know some of the participants in the program,” Davis said. “It really touched me to see how important this is to them. Adult education is significant on so many levels because the graduates empower themselves with confidence, a much higher chance of employment, and the potential for higher income. The effect is contagious. When they bring that feeling home and share the success with their family, friends and especially their children, we know the impact is spread exponentially.”

The program involves collaboration between Agape and its community partners, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Teach for America and the University of Tennessee.

Agape – which means “love” in Greek – is a 41-year-old Christian-based organization that is dedicated to providing children and families with healthy homes through a wide range of programs, including adoption and foster care, maternity services, counseling and homelessness prevention.

The GED pilot program is the latest model added to the organization’s services. It’s made possible through Agape’s Powerlines Community Network Program, which works to connect local under-resourced communities with the resources they need to help shape a more nurturing environment for children and their families.

The Powerlines Community Network is currently active in three communities: Whitehaven, Hickory Hill/Southeast Memphis and Frayser/Raleigh.

Churches, businesses and other stakeholders partner with local neighborhoods to deliver services in a culturally sensitive, site-based manner. Partners include everyone from the City of Memphis to Literacy Mid-South to the Church Health Center.

“The purpose of Powerlines Community Network is to be with the people, of the people, among the people,” Jordan said. “It’s relational, and engaging with people. … It’s finding out what they need. And when they need a GED class, it’s walking them through the process.”

The program uses employees called “connectors” who not only guide participants toward attaining their GEDs, but help them tackle barriers to studying and class attendance.

“Often folks drop out of programs because of other issues,” Jordan said. “Their car’s in the shop, they’ve got child care issues, or they’ve got a significant relational problem in their home. The issues can be numerous. The connectors are working to address that range of barriers to help them be successful in what they started out to do – which is to get their GED.”

Connectors will also stay in communication with graduates as they enter into the job market.

The hope is that the program will be replicated in other parts of the state. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was given weekly updates on the progress of the program.

“They wanted to start in Memphis, take this program to Nashville and then go all the way to Knoxville,” said Kristee Bell, director of Agape’s Powerlines Community Network. “This is a program they would like to duplicate, especially the partnership aspect of it.”

Davis said job creation is a major concern right now, and programs like this can increase Tennesseans workplace marketability and employment options.

“That’s why we were hopeful that this pilot program with Powerlines and Agape would be successful and it was. While some of the students will earn their GED diploma, all of them made academic gains and proved they can pass the test with a little more instruction.”

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