GREENVILLE — Representatives of the Alternative Achievement Center for Educational Success and Gateway Youth programs held an open house at the former Darke County Home Thursday afternoon.
The programs, operated by the Ohio Council on Rural Services, recently took up residence in the former mental health facility.
ACES program manager Jeff Vaughn said he aims to prepare local high school students for graduation. His program currently enrolls more than 30 students, some of whom attend classes at the facility full-time while others attend part-time and combine the program with work.
ACES offerings include after-school tutoring sessions, mental health services, a life skills course taught by Darke County Recovery and Wellness and We Are the Majority representative Kelly Harrison, and food and nutrition courses offered in partnership with Ohio State University’s Darke County Extension Office, as well as art classes taught by an instructor from Troy and yoga sessions paid for by a grant from Reid Hospital in Richmond, Indiana.
“We try to get them exposed to things they normally wouldn’t be,” Vaughn said of the program’s students. “The majority of the kids we get are struggling academically. Many have anxiety issues and can’t handle being in a bigger setting. A few are here because they’ve had behavior issues but not near as many as we’ve had in the past.”
Some students choose to remain with the program and take classes there full-time, according to Vaughn, while others ultimately return to their original schools or transition to Miami Valley Career Technology Center.
“We help get them caught back up to where they need to be and get them graduated,” Vaughn said. “We help the schools out with kids who would normally be dropouts and help make the kids into law-abiding people who can be productive individuals in the county.”
The program works, Vaughn said, by building one-on-one relationships between counselors, instructors and students.
“And before you know it they’re off and running,” Vaughn said. “Our goal is to build a support system around them to help them become successful.”
Support Specialist Ruth Barga oversees the Gateway Youth and Community Connectors programs. Barga also works as a direct service provider with students at Greenville City Schools where she spends at least a day and a half each week at both the middle school and high school.
Barga said that mentoring is one of the most important services her program offers.
“If kids are struggling with something, we try to help them through those tough times they may be facing,” Barga said.
Issues faced by students include behavior problems, conflicts with parents, trauma, substance abuse, uncertainty about the future and problems getting a job and getting along with coworkers, according to Barga.
The Community Connectors Program matches students with mentors in the larger community while Gateway offers after-school and summer programs dealing with anger management, nutrition, self-esteem building and even a book club. Presently students in the program are training to take part in a 5K race with entry fees paid for by another grant from Reid Health.
“The students really need that,” Barga said. “It bonds them and teaches them social skills in an environment they see as friendly.”