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Houston County Living

Closing the Gap

Aug 04, 2021 05:49PM ● By Alexa Tebben
Often times the people in our lives that step into roles they did not have to fill end up leaving the greatest impact on us.

     Closing the Gap is a local nonprofit program that exists to teach the youth valuable life lessons that will help them develop into honorable, respectful men and women. President of Closing the Gap Levern Keels says, “Our mission is to serve underserved people and others to bring unity in the community between all race, breed, colors and nationality.” With this beautiful goal, program members set out to positively influence impressionable young men and women by providing them with the tools they need to grow into the successful adults they can become.
     To achieve this, Levern talks about the power of influence and how leading by example can truly make a difference. “We provide positive role models for some of these children that don’t have good role models at home,” he says. “That’s what it is about, providing teenage boys with positive role models and teaching the children how to be respectful and how to look out for each other.”
      Geared toward children with the greatest need for what this program provides, Levern says they often work with kids in the north side of Warner Robins, although not exclusively. “We primarily try to serve the children of that area,” he says. “Our focus is the underserved and minorities – but we’re not exclusively minorities. Anyone is welcome to join and we will help out whomever.”
      Founded in 2016, Closing the Gap was inspired by a handful of men that were teaching the youth on their own time. “They would meet and mentor young men, teenagers and pre-teens,” Levern says. From there he tells me, “Closing the Gap expanded to serve the underserved and the underprivileged.”
     One of the men involved in the original group was experienced leader and city councilman Larry Curtis. “What drew me to the program was Larry’s passion for helping people,” Levern admits. “Larry was somebody that saw the need to help others and was willing to help.” Levern says the two have become close friends over the years, and the pair strive to lead the young men of this community by example with gentle instruction.
      Closing the Gap offers events and festivities to entertain the children in an educational environment. “We sponsor events such as black history week,” Levern says. “We try to put the word out about what it is and what it means to black heritage. We’ve also done a Juneteenth celebration for the last two to three years.” Including a water slide, bounce house and free refreshments, this event draws a crowd of children that get to learn about the importance of the holiday in an active and engaged environment.
     In 2019, Closing the Gap took about 40 children to Atlanta to visit The King Center and the World of
  Coca-Cola. Levern describes outings like this as enriching learning experiences the kids will never forget. The program and its volunteers make sure there is a clear message of unity and community behind every parade, game
and celebration they offer. This ensures a lasting impression on the kids and incentive for them to stay part of this immensely beneficial program.
     In addition to these fun outings, the program offers invaluable opportunities to equip both children and adults to thrive. “We work with the housing authority for the after-school tutoring,” Levern says. “They provide facilities for us, and we provide the adults that want to help tutor.” Tutoring is available to any school child that needs it. Completely free of charge, children in less fortunate communities have access to help with their studies from adults that are passionate about seeing them succeed.
      Children are not the only ones who benefit from this amazing program. Levern tells me they want to help as many people as they can, regardless of race, gender or age. One way they do this is by offering free resume reviews complete with comments and feedback. They even go as far as offering mock interviews to help prepare adults for breaking into the job market. In doing this, Closing the Gap boosts people’s confidence while improving their chances of getting better jobs. This helps adults and college students to pursue job opportunities with courage and determination.
      Another one of Closing the Gap’s contributions is their added efforts at the beginning of the school year. “We partner with local organizations to provide back-to-school support for children,” Levern says. He speaks of the school drives and fundraisers they have participated in with great joy for the results they produce. They have raised dozens of brand new sneakers, classroom supplies, tissues, hand sanitizer and more. Giving these things to young children in need can increase their excitement of returning to school to gain a valuable education.
     Levern speaks about the challenges they face in keeping this program up and running. “It’s hard to get
  children to stay involved,” he admits sadly. Despite the volunteers and resources at their disposal, people are not always receptive to these opportunities. Some of their great ideas and outreach plans have fizzled due to a lack of involvement. Levern speaks of this sadly wishing that more people would take advantage of the help they offer.
     Despite the challenges of maintaining strong community involvement in Closing the Gap, Levern speaks of the program and his own participation in it with immense delight. Having grown up in a single parent home, Levern appreciates the people that serve as role models to children. “I’ve had people that have looked out for me and this is an opportunity to give something back,” he explains. Closing the Gap and its volunteers show children of the community what it means to support and love one another. “You have to respect yourself before you can respect others,” Levern believes. “That’s what it’s about, teaching the children how to be respectful and how to look out for each other.” It is with this attitude of respect that Closing the Gap guides youthful men and women through critical years into adulthood.
      Closing the Gap is not only an upbeat outreach program but a choice that has the power to enrich one’s life and increase their opportunities. Their guidance and mentorship provides the youth with tools to prepare them for a better future. The volunteers at Closing the Gap are passionate about helping the youth find the path that excites and energizes them and then guiding them towards achieving that goal. They always welcome new members or donors who wish to make a difference in the community through this organization. Those that get involved feel a great sense of reward in helping raise up the next generation with elegance and grace to be the kind of men and women that will one day mentor and lead others.
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