Neshoba Youth Coalition Director Leroy Clemons tutors students, from left, Samiyah Culberson, Kinsley McWilliams, Nayla Arnold and Chryslyn Warren, at Westside Community Center.
Neshoba Youth Coalition Director Leroy Clemons tutors students, from left, Samiyah Culberson, Kinsley McWilliams, Nayla Arnold and Chryslyn Warren, at Westside Community Center.
Tutoring is making a major difference at Westside Community Center through the Neshoba Youth Coalition.

More than 100 students in kindergarten through sixth grade have been reached through a mentoring program that places a strong emphasis on summer tutoring.

Summer tutoring is credited with the Philadelphia schools improving from a "D" to a "C" last year under the state Department of Education's accountability model.

"I love working with the kids," Alexis Euyoque, one of the mentors, said. "I love helping them with any kind of problems they've got."

To be eligible as a mentor, members must be in the coalition for at least a year.

"If you want to work in the mentoring program you have to be a member of the youth coalition," Executive Director Leroy Clemons said.

The youth coalition began in October 2010 in response to the work of the Philadelphia Coalition which recognized a divide between the civil rights generation and the post civil rights generation, he said.

The coalition is open to any high school student in Neshoba County.

The idea was to develop a program that would provide our young leaders with the knowledge to make intelligent and informed decisions that lead to positive and sustainable change, Clemons said.

"The Philadelphia Coalition showed us the way and now it's time for us to take the ball and run with it," he said.

Since then, the youth coalition's mission has been to "develop academic skills, behaviors, and attitudes in academically motivated teens to improve their grades, standardized test scores, attendance, and opportunities. Their purpose is to contribute to the healing of the Philadelphia community by uplifting its most vulnerable students."

This includes mentoring to young children.

"This is how we're going to change our community," Clemons said. "We can meet, we can talk all day long, and that's not going to fix anything. You're going to have to get out and do something because we are ultimately responsible for ourselves."

The youth coalition addresses what Clemons calls the ABC's of community building: attitudes and behaviors of young people and the conditions that cause them.

"For example, the young people learn of the systemic problems reflected by educational shortcomings in their schools and embrace programs that will help change them," he said.

They invest in a mentoring program to help heal their own community through knowledge and achievement, he said.

"We've got to take care of it ourselves and do it ourselves because Superman isn't going to come in and rescue us," Clemons said. "We're going to have to do this for ourselves and we can't expect to do it all. We say the parents don't get involved but that's why we have programs like this because if the parent can get them here, they're involved in my opinion. And then it's up to us to take it to the next level."

Lajoya Griffin, one of the mentors, said she had enjoyed every moment of the program.

"Most of these kids are from our community and I've just enjoyed teaching them and giving them a little extra time they haven't had during the summertime," she said, noting that it feels good giving them someone to look up to.

"Being a role model, I've realized that they're looking up to me."

Since the formation of the Neshoba Youth Coalition in 2010 it has grown from 25 teens to more than 60.

In 2013, six students from the coalition won the annual National History Day State Group Performance Competition held at the University of Southern Mississippi. They wrote and performed the skit, "Mississippi Burning: The Turning of Mississippi."

They then traveled to the national competition at the University of Maryland/College Park where they placed 11th in the nation.

"They were the first Mississippi team to go to the finals," Clemons said.

The coalition meets once a week at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the historic Train Depot on Beacon Street.

For more information, call 601-504-3980.