Edgefield County Youth Empowerment Center (ECYEC), as its name suggests, not only helps children stay out of trouble and in school, but empowers kids to move forward in spite of difficulties. An important part of this work is making sure that parents are actively involved and engaged in their children’s lives. It’s more than that, of course. ECYEC offers children opportunities in STEM they might not otherwise have had. The center also offers kids a chance to explore different careers, and offers job skills training, too.
Among our small grant recipients are many organizations that serve at-risk children, but ECYEC is, in many ways, a cut above the rest. Perhaps that’s because of the sense we have that Edgefield is a community that cares about future of its local youth. We put some questions to Edgefield County Youth Empowerment Center CEO Marcella Edwards to learn more about the work of this impressive youth development nonprofit.
Kars4Kids: Tell us something about your demographic—who are the children and families that you serve? How would you describe Edgefield?
Marcella Edwards: We serve children and youth in rural communities. 95% of the population is from single-parent homes. Edgefield is a small town with a shared purpose and interest in its communities. Edgefield works together for the greater good of children, youth, and families.
Kars4Kids: Who founded the Edgefield County Youth Empowerment Center, and why?
Marcella Edwards: I founded ECYEC along with my co-founder, former Sheriff Adell Dobey. The program was established to reduce the rising rate of juvenile delinquency and decrease high school dropout among youth in the community.
Kars4Kids: The name of your organization includes the word “empowerment.” What does “empowerment” mean to you, and what role does empowerment play in the work that you do at the center?
Marcella Edwards: Possessing the authority to decide how my life turns out. Our team provides children/youth with the skills, resources, and opportunities to become confident and self-sufficient.
Kars4Kids: We noticed that of the three programs you list on your website, the Triple P Parenting Program comes first. Does this speak to the philosophy behind the work of the center? Can you talk about family coming first?
Marcella Edwards: Yes. Families are one of the most essential pieces of our organization’s success in the community. Of all the factors that determine our students’ outcomes, family engagement is at the top of our list. Partnerships between our team and families have improved students’ grades, attendance, persistence, and motivation. Healthy families are the building blocks of a healthy community.
Kars4Kids: Can you describe the Triple P Parenting Program? What are the three Ps?
Marcella Edwards: P.P.P. is a parenting and family support system that serves families with children from birth through age 16. The system includes multiple interventions that increase in intensity across five service levels.
Kars4Kids: You have the Girls Circle and L.E.A.D. ME Boys Mentoring. Is the focus different for these two groups? How so?
Marcella Edwards: The focus is the same; both help kids grow into confident, capable, and productive adults.
Kars4Kids: Tell us a bit about YES, if you would. How does it work?
Marcella Edwards: It’s a partnership between the Department of Juvenile Justice and our organization. The program provides employability training for 60 at-risk high school students ages 16-19. Y.E.S.s are designed to improve the overall functioning of at-risk high school students at home, in school, and in the community. The program provides job skills training, career exposure, and community internship/work experience for participants.
Kars4Kids: Your STEM camp is hosting the NASA Astro Camp. That sounds exciting! What can you tell us about that?
Marcella Edwards: There are 315 NASA Community Partners (A.C.C.P.) programs active, with nearly 30 partner sites operating internationally. We were the first and only site until last year in S.C. to host NASA Astro Camp! It’s an educational program focused on NASA and S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). It engages students and provides opportunities to explore these fields. ASTRO CAMP activities offer real-world opportunities for every student to join in and contribute to NASA science missions and enhance scientific understanding while inspiring lifelong learners and explorers. The A.C.C.P. Program highlights current and past NASA missions while using hands-on activities to expand S.T.E.M. interest through focused activities in astrophysics, Earth science, heliophysics, and biological and planetary science missions. The approach seeks to teach camp participants to work collaboratively to complete missions, using methodology developed during 30 years of ASTRO CAMP sessions held at Stennis Space Center.
Our Executive Director is a trained NASA ASTRO Camp Educator and implements the camp yearly.
Kars4Kids: Talk about your After School Matters programs, please. A 98% grade promotion rate for the past 5 years is very impressive. What’s your secret?
Marcella Edwards: The secrets are a positive relationship with our students, parental involvement, and an atmosphere charged with hope and possibility.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for the Edgefield County Youth Empowerment Center?
Marcella Edwards: We are in the process of building a child development center for our community. Childcare demands outpace supply in the town of Johnston—there are currently no childcare centers in Johnston to meet the needs of parents’ work schedule (6:30 am-6 pm), forcing parents to travel outside of the town for childcare.