The Empahasis is on Enrichment
“All our kids are gifted. Our goal is to change these kids’ lives in a positive way to help them find that gift with which every kid is born. Every day we are committed to doing just that. We want all our kids to reach their greatest potential.” Isha Brown passionately shares these thoughts about her AYEP students.
What is AYEP? It is Carthage’s very own Afterschool Youth Enrichment Program for kindergarteners through sixth graders. “We are not a babysitting service. AYEP exists to invest in children and their families to help them discover who they are in a powerfully nurturing environment,” Isha explains. AYEP is truly about enrichment. The program meets from 3 to 6 p.m. through the school year, with much of that time focused on academic tutoring and enrichment, mixed with Stem Clubs for Music and Science and Technology and Engineering and Math. AYEP-enrolled students receive academic enrichment that is closely aligned with the campus instructional coordinators, parents, and teachers to specifically target areas each student needs. In the summer, academic enrichment is still a focus, but the program also helps the students develop social skills like public speaking and interpersonal communication. “We teach more than basic skills. We teach them to speak clearly, to have respect, and to be kind,” Isha reports.
“Many individuals set the stage for AYEP to happen,” she says, but the humble and passionate 38 year-old graduate of Carthage High School and North Texas State University truly birthed this community gem when Marshall, Texas, decided to close their extension of the Boys & Girls Club of America here in Carthage. “I had already become involved as a volunteer after moving back to town and was glad to see the program existed here, as I was very involved in similar programs in college and had thought how great it would be to have something like that in Carthage.” However, sensing the threat of seeing it disappear, she set to work, and in 2012, Isha’s AYEP vision became an official non-profit organization.
There exists a very present need for a program like AYEP, a support resource for families that need to connect in order to build a stronger community. Many parents are working and/or going back to school, and even though there are lots of services out there to help, none of them intersect, but Isha tries to do that with AYEP. “Collectively, when we all come together, we have a greater impact. We will never have the impact on these children and families if we, as a community, stay in our separate bubbles. We have to work together,” she says. “One of our parents is a mother graduating from the Panola College OTA program. She, to me, is a testimony of why we exist. She faced so many hurdles and obstacles when she enrolled her kids with us, and we were a support for her. We were able to wrap our arms around her and her family. When we partner with parents and commit to come alongside for the greater good of all involved, everyone wins. This mother will now be able to give back to her community with an OTA job and as a taxpayer.” AYEP works!
Thankfully, AYEP has a great working relationship with the area schools. Carthage High School provides amazing volunteers from the National Honor Society and Key Club, while the campus teachers and instructional coordinators work with Isha to customize the academic enrichment for the 50-60 students enrolled with AYEP. She says that Panola College has been a “Godsend” for the volunteers and lending of personnel services. Because of those personnel resources, they are able to divide the students by grades for their academic enrichment sessions. Also, the Carthage Independent School District Board of Education voted to leave the Libby gym standing when the rest of the older campus was torn down to make way for the new construction so that AYEP could meet there. Originally, the Boys & Girls Club extension was meeting at the Turner Community Center, but as the extension was to be removed from Carthage and the Turner Community Center to be torn down, AYEP received the blessing of the Libby gym. “The Turner Alumni Board committed so much, and they did so as long and as much as they could,” says Isha. As the need and program grew, though, new space became available. AYEP is such a success that they are beginning to outgrow the gym! “We are pretty full now,” Isha excitedly shares, “so we are always looking at ways to expand our program and space.”
AYEP’s history of meeting facilities emphasizes that funding is always a challenge. AYEP is not federally funded at all, and until two or three years ago, there weren’t even any grants for which to apply. “Unfortunately, funding is a constant thought. I am ALWAYS thinking about sustainability,” says Isha. Just running AYEP and maintaining the funding is a full-time job for her. She and the board are always considering how they can offer their program without the $55 per month fee that can be a barrier for the families they serve, as they never want to turn anyone away. For that, they are ever grateful for sponsors and scholarships from the community. This enrichment opportunity depends strictly on donations, so Isha is constantly researching and writing grants. Isha and the AYEP Board are indebted with gratitude to the Turner Alumni Association, Carthage ISD, Panola College, the City of Carthage, the County Judge, and organizations like the Carthage Book Club who recently donated money to help extend AYEP’s computer needs, which had originally been donated from the Rotary Club.
“Our volunteers and paid staff are committed to the mission and vision of helping kids in Panola County be the best they can be. We are open to anyone in Panola County, and we invite the community to be involved.” Isha’s enthusiasm for AYEP can be heard in every statement she makes about it. “These students love to build and explore, and with the proper funding, we can provide ways for them to do that. Adequate funding allows us to supply them with various projects, even many that have no directions, nor Google, so we can train them to think; and then we like to help them connect with the community in activities to employ these skills in real world practice. Our group is very diverse, and we try to nurture a family environment.”
“I have worked in the legal field and taught and held various other jobs, but this is by far the most fulfilling.” Isha believes she was put here in this place to do this, and can’t believe that of all the people God could have chosen to do this, He chose to give her this opportunity. How fortunate and proud Carthage is to have her enriching our community!
If you would like to find out about enrollment in AYEP, offer a donation, volunteer, or have someone speak to your group or service organization about AYEP, please contact Isha Brown at 903-693-3351 or send correspondence to 421 North Daniels Street, Carthage, Texas 75633.