HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A group of about 25 Hattiesburg community leaders have started a men's group to help mentor students in the Hattiesburg Public School District.
HPSD's Concerned Men Group is part of a new effort by the district and Interim Superintendent Robert Williams to infuse more positive community involvement into the school system.
"This group started just at the beginning of the school year," said Kimble Allen, pastor of New Covenant Baptist Church, who is heading up the men's group. "We started off just trying to come to each school in the Hattiesburg Public School District as a group of concerned men to move from talking to action to where we're showing our kids how much we really do care, and the administration. (We're) letting them know that we're here (in) any way that they would need us to be mentors for our students of the day and help them get on the right track."
The group spent the first week of school welcoming students at each of the nine schools in the district, and they were back at Hattiesburg High School Thursday greeting students as the hopped off the bus and walking them to their first classes.
"This year we're going to pay special attention and focus with Hattiesburg High School to make sure that we are reaching out with our students," Williams said. "We know that it takes a collective community effort."
Allen said, "It's needed, really, all over our state, but we just targeted Hattiesburg School District because that where a lot of our kids go to as well. We just see the need greatly here, and we want to make a difference."
Gerard Patterson, a member of the group, said he's seen the need for positive role models firsthand.
"I've worked in the school systems before, and I know how it is dealing with the kids," he said. "Just knowing how really great it is to be an example for them, (teaching them) how to stand out and have them something to follow by because a lot of kids really need it right now. Really, just being a great example for them."
Patterson is the youth director at New Covenant Baptist Church and said the want to mentor students, especially middle and high school aged boys, came naturally.
"Just provide a difference for them" Patterson said. "Be an example. Set an example, and also give them something else to look at besides all the negatives going on surrounding them."
Allen said, "That's what it is, a mentorship-type thing. Not only are we here at Hattiesburg High, but we're all over the district now to anyone that needs our help and help guiding students."
The group is made of male community members, faith leaders and law enforcement officers, Allen said, who all share that same vision.
"It brings great joy," he said. "It brings great joy to see men finally coming out doing things, it brings great joy. Great joy."
Robert Herron, pastor of New Fellowship Baptist Church and another member of the group, agreed.
"I count it a joy to help out, be a part of something as big as this is to help move our children along, to help give them a leg up in life, and encouraging them as they start this school year," Herron said. "The old folks used to tell us that if you start out right, what happens? You end up right. So we (are) trying to help them to start out right."
Allen said more men are offering to be advisers as the group gets out into the community.
"We probably have anywhere from like 20-25 guys, and it's growing," Allen said. "As we do things, we have more and more guys coming to join our group."
Patterson said he hopes that trend continues and expands.
"Hopefully, (we) get more community involvement as well as parent involvement, and that way, we can all together come in and make a difference in the kids' lives," Patterson said.