Pam Smith, the administrative assistant to Pastor Darwan Lazard at Ninth Baptist Church in Ville Platte, is pictured here in front of the church’s entrance on LaTour Street as she holds a flyer for the Grind Time Academy. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)

Ninth Baptist Church in Ville Platte receives grant to further opportunities for the youth

A grant in the amount of $50 thousand dollars from Governor John Bel Edwards’ office was awarded to Ninth Baptist Church’s Grind Time Academy to provide better opportunities for the youth of Evangeline Parish.
Pam Smith, the administrative assistant to Pastor Darwan Lazard, said the grant is a life grant through the Louisiana Youth for Excellence program.
“Pastor Lazard got us that grant from the governor,” Pam said. “It has to be used on our youth about life and making a difference. The contract consists of teaching them about teen pregnancy, STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), goals, and trying to set up the youth for tomorrow.”
Pastor Lazard expressed his pleasure with receiving the grant. “We’re very pleased that we were the recipients of this grant that will help us to impact the lives of our school aged young people in the Ville Platte community,” he said. “We feel that it is very much needed, and we will be offering them skills that will help them as they go into life, as they look forward to college, and as they look forward to employment.”
As Pam said, the effects of the grant were seen immediately. “We’ve been having the Grind Time Academy, and our director Heather Smith has been running it on Saturdays at 12:00,” she explained. “She’s been getting an average of eight to 10 kids and was getting discouraged. When we got the grant, we gave out flyers to all the schools in Evangeline Parish. Now, we’ve been averaging 35 kids on a Saturday.”
The first session of the academy after receiving the grant was on September 15. “We did a survey on our very first day when we registered the students and asked them what is the one thing that is hurting them the most,” said Pam. “Ninety percent of the kids said suicide. Some of them said their dad was beating their mom and other little things that they don’t know how to deal with.”
She continued, “We also did a questionnaire and asked them things that nobody asked them before. Nobody took the time to find out what they’re actually thinking and what they actually want to do.”
A portion of the grant money is used to pay three teachers and six student workers and to provide a hot meal for the students. Another portion is used to cover field trips.
“We went to Grambling’s High School Day, and we took 35 kids,” Pam said. “We have STEM Fest scheduled for October 20 in New Orleans, then we have High School Day at Southern University on November 10. We have one scheduled for UL-L in February and one scheduled for McNeese in March.”
“We’re taking them to some colleges because some of them could be thinking about going to college,” she continued. “Taking them to these colleges shows them how exciting it is to get an education while still having fun and getting higher in life.”
Heather Smith described one of the Saturday programs. “We start off by showing them some type of inspirational video where we get their gears turning,” she said. “Then, we turn to ice-breaker activities so we can get to know each other as a group. Then, we follow up with a general overview of a topic, and the topics range from something to better them in the classroom or something to better them as a person.”
She continued, “After the general session, we go into break out groups where we just dive a little deeper into whatever the topic was in the general session.”
Heather described the response to the programs has been great. As she said, “I’m basing that on group participation. Right now, when the session is going on, they’re eager to raise their hands and to provide responses. Everything looks like it’s going wonderful.”
Heather also pointed out that the number of students is growing and that the program is still accepting applications. The program runs to May 31, 2019.
“For the first session,” Heather said, “we started out with 33. After the first session, we went to approximately 50, and, now, we’re at approximately 80 and growing.”
For Heather, the program is special for the town and the parish as a whole. “We’re not trying to build the students up only inside the classroom but outside the classroom as well. I think as we do that we produce better citizens for Ville Platte and Evangeline Parish now and in the future.”
Pastor Lazard concluded, “We’re very pleased and grateful to the governor for his office’s support in this endeavor.”

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