When someone new checks out the At-Promise Center, Tashumbi “T.J.” Jones is usually the one who volunteers to provide a tour.
“I like coming in here, because it’s somewhere to get away from the street,” Jones said. “I’ve been on the street, and I want to stay out of trouble.”
That’s just one reason the At-Promise Center, a state-of the-art learning and community facility, was created. Located on historic English Avenue in Atlanta’s Westside community, At-Promise is the cornerstone of the Atlanta Police Foundation’s youth crime reduction initiative.
A favorite program of Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, At-Promise has become a bridge between the community and law enforcement to help “at-promise” – not at-risk – youths reach their full potential.
Aaron Nicholson has been the Youth Program Director since the center opened two-plus years ago.
“Instead of locking youth up for minor infractions and starting them in that criminal justice cycle, Atlanta police officers are able to bring youth directly here,” Nicholson said. “Those who’ve committed non-violent offenses get that real-time, wrap-around service that they need.”
Originally intended for 150 young Atlantans from ages 12 to 24, the program now includes 377 clients. Participants are assessed and connected with partners that focus on everything from anger management to addiction counseling to financial education. “We place them where their needs are met,” Nicholson said. “That’s being proactive instead of reactive.”
Regions Bank is one such partner, focusing on financial education.
“This neighborhood has been one that’s historically been forgotten,” said Cecilia Bailey, Financial Education Manager for Regions. “Having a center like this one here to address some of the basic needs that the kids and community need has a lot of purpose.”
Bailey teaches classes with Tiffany Kirk, another Atlanta-based Community Development Specialist for Regions. Together, they see in person the impact of the program.
“When two women like Tiffany and myself come in and teach them financial education and sharing enthusiastically with them what they could be – what they could have – making the right choices – that’s why I do what I do.”
T.J. Jones said he was affected by participating in a class on real-world economics. “First, they taught us how to manage our money. They’d say, ‘You’ve got a spouse, with three kids, and you’ve got to pay for daycare and a car. How are you going to manage your money?’”
For Jones, the lessons he gets from At-Promise go beyond finances straight to adulthood.
“I want to be something to my kids that I never had: That was a father – not a daddy – a father,” Jones added.
Atlanta Police officers create relationships through mentoring. They come to At-Promise for dinner, eating side by side with the participants and creating a genuine bond. Recruits for the APD also get involved.
“We’re going to do everything that we can to help give you the opportunity to dream and to make those dreams come true,” said Lt. Felicia Claxton of the Atlanta Police Academy.
Getting to the young Atlantans early “when they’ve made that first mistake,” is crucial said Atlanta Police Foundation CEO Dave Wilkinson.
When “they walk out with a GED, a job, help for their family – just a better sense of being – it’s a game-changer for this city,” Wilkinson said. “So we’re proud to be part of it, and we’re proud Regions Bank is our partner.”
Likewise, Regions relishes its role of support, said Bill Linginfelter, Regions Commercial Banking Regional Executive.
“The children who participate and the families who are part of At-Promise are able to do things in a constructive, productive, safe atmosphere,” Linginfelter said. “It’s a great example of partnership between nonprofit, private enterprise, law enforcement and city government. We’re really proud to be a part of it.”