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Housing Authority students get help

COVINGTON - Youth advocate and former teacher Lillian Bittaye is working with various community partners to try to change the public perception of the Covington Housing Authority.

She said most everything she hears about the Housing Authority is negative, so she wants to continue her efforts to put it in a positive light.

"We've got to change the image surrounding the Housing Authority," she said.

For the third year, her nonprofit youth organization, the Sojourner Truth Program, is offering a free after-school program to school-age children who live in the Housing Authority. In the past, the organization only was able to offer the services for two days each week at the Covington Housing Authority office located at 5160 Alcovy Road, in addition to offering a summer camp.

This year, thanks to various community donations, the program is offered for five days a week - from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Fridays. The free program starts Sept. 15.

"We will focus on homework and try to connect more closely with the home schools so that we are providing educational support that's in-line with the curriculum," Bittaye said.

The program also focuses on nutrition and healthy activities. This year, Khaliq Allah with Creative Spirits will provide an art class for students two days per week, and on Fridays, students will have a free day with table games or a movie hour. Bittaye also plans to offer a snack and possibly a meal to students and hopes to take them on a few field trips this year.

"We are offering more services this year in order to enhance the quality of life for our residents," Bittaye said.

Volunteers - including retired educators, Covington Housing Authority residents and some from Oxford College - will monitor the students and tutor them on their homework.

Bittaye still is looking for more volunteers and may need even more depending on the number of students who enter the program. In the past, about 25 students participated in the after-school program each day. She said about 300 school-aged students live in the Covington Housing Authority and that she prefers at least a four-to-one student-teacher ratio.

"You never know how many kids will show up," she said.

Even though Bittaye is grateful for the $2,500 donation from Snapping Shoals and other monetary donations from the Newton County Recreation Department and from Covington Ford for the after-school program, she said more donations could help supply more food and snacks to the children, possibly organize a field trip to students who excel in school and provide other services to Housing Authority residents. She also said services or items are welcomed, using as an example Covington Cooks, which donated cooking utensils over the summer and the Washington Street Community Center, which is involving the Covington Housing Authority students with their events.

"We are constantly struggling to get donations and seeking grants," she said. "This is about the community saving their own children."

In addition to offering programs to school-aged children at the Covington Housing Authority, Bittaye's program also plans to offer computer and job search training for adults, parent and infant/toddler reading workshops through The Learning Center, a GED practice program through Newton County Reads, a senior citizen information session through Wise Step and various other programs.

For more information about programs offered at the Covington Housing Authority or volunteer and donor opportunities, contact Bittaye at 770-572-8995 or the housing authority at 770-786-7739.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.