Donald Black has been program director of Operation Early Intervention since its inception Aug. 2, 1999. Black spoke to the Exchange Club of Jones County July 7 about the program, which begins its 10th year in September.
The program was originally funded with a three-year nonrenewable state grant through the Children and Youth Coordinating Council (CYCC). The grant was available for the eight counties in the Ocmulgee Court District, and, in addition to Jones, Putnam, Baldwin, Morgan, Green, and Wilkinson started programs.
Jones County is the only program that remains in operation, and that is attributable to Black’s success in working with students and the support he has received from the county and board of education. Since the grant expired, the program has been funded jointly by the entities.
Black worked in the field of education for 30 years before becoming involved with OEI. He retired from education in January 1999 and went to work with the program the following August.
OEI operates on a budget of $50,000 a year, and, according to annual reports, reaches more than 300 students a year. It works with the Juvenile Justice System and Juvenile Court, but it is not a punitive program.
Black explained OEI’s origin to Exchange Club members. He said Superior Court Clerk Bart Jackson attended a grant writing seminar with Assistant School Superintendent Verneda Appling and they became aware of the availability of the state grant.
“They wanted to help kids that were falling through the cracks,” Black said. “Bart saw them coming through the court system, and Verneda saw the kids dropping out of school. The program was set up to help kids stay in school.”
Jackson accepted the role of program director, and he continues to hold the position.
The program is open to referrals from the schools, courts, law enforcement, the Department of Family and Children Services, River Edge Project Adventure, the Interagency Committee, Tribunals, Disciplinary Reviews, and from families.
Black said any adult can refer a youth to the program and most of the referrals now come mostly from school counselors and parents. OEI also deals with youth traffic citations, community service and restitution cases.
He said it is normal to receive several speeding cases the first couple of weeks after school adjourns for the summer, and through the program he is able to help the students keep their licenses and keep the parents’ insurance rates from increasing.
Black said his clients range from students of Pre-K to seniors, and he had 17 students in the program graduate this year.
“I see more middle school students because of the life changes they are facing. Hormones are flying and they don’t know who they are. My clients are from a mixture of society and no particular race or economic level dominates,” he said. “This year I am seeing more girls.”
He said the youngest children he sees are usually having a hard time dealing with family situations, such as their parents getting divorced. When one child is referred to the program, all the siblings in the family are served. Black said that lets him help those youngsters stay on the right track.
Black said gang-affiliated problems have dropped, but this seems to be the year of prescription drugs. Students are bringing prescription drugs to sell at school they are finding in the family medicine cabinet or are taking the drugs themselves. He said the problem of statutory rape and underage alcohol are also recurring problems.
He prepares quarterly reports for stakeholders, and June’s report shows 426 client contacts were made from March to May. The program received 49 new referrals from schools, the Department of Juvenile Justice, traffic citations, and other sources.
OEI clients were served by the Family Counseling Center, Home Run Group Home, River Edge, Project Adventure, and a new provider, the Woodland Home in Milledgeville.
Black attends an interagency meeting once a month to discuss the students and their progress.
He said, when the program began, he was seen by students as being the ‘bad guy’, but he has been able to change that perception.
“My greatest satisfaction is seeing parents realize this is a non-judgmental resource to help. We are a caring community. Everyone works together; otherwise the program would not have lasted,” Black added.