Newton READS gets new director

Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum. Renee Jones is the new executive director of Newton County READS.

Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum. Renee Jones is the new executive director of Newton County READS.

COVINGTON -- Since taking over as executive director of Newton County READS in late November, Renee Jones has been helping people achieve dreams they thought were impossible.

Whether she's helping students learn to read, speak English as a second language or attain a GED, Jones makes sure that she and her staff of volunteers give encouragement as they impart knowledge.

A dropout herself who went on to attain her GED, join the military and earn a college degree in nonprofit management, Jones knows the value of education. She also knows how difficult it can be to get one late in the game.

Some Newton READS students dropped out of school as early as eighth grade, some due to bad choices that got them in trouble with the law. Others got pregnant or fathered a child and still others had to quit to go to work to help their families.

"I know exactly what they're looking at. I know the defeatist attitude you can have about it and what it takes to overcome that," Jones said.

Before taking on the Newton READS position, Jones was a volunteer with AmeriCorps, a national organization that offers opportunities to serve through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups. She first got involved with Newton County READS as a volunteer with Hands on Newton.

Former Newton READS director Janet Hodges asked her to mentor a single mother who was trying to obtain a GED but was feeling discouraged.

"She was a single parent of four children. She thought it was impossible. It's not impossible to do," Jones said.

Her student did earn the GED and is now looking for work. Following Hodges' retirement, Jones came on board as executive director. Five students have graduated during her tenure.

After receiving a GED, the students receive a $500 voucher to apply toward higher education.

"Once you get that GED, the sky is the limit if you want it to be. You can confine yourself, or you can expand or explode," Jones said.

Jones has plans to expand the program, if she can get needed volunteers and supplies.

Among her goals is to start a tutoring program at Covington Housing Authority. There are already tutoring sites at Allen Memorial United Methodist Church in Oxford, the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter and Church of the Good Shepherd. Tutors also work individually with students at the Newton County Library.

The program currently serves 151 students through its adult literacy, GED and English as a second language programs.

"I wish we had a more diverse volunteer base, because we have a diverse student population," Jones said, noting that Spanish-speaking tutors are especially needed.

Newton READS also needs laptops and other supplies, and Jones is currently seeking donations to be auctioned at the organization's annual Scrabble tournament fund raiser in April.

For more information on Newton County READS, visit www.newtoncountyreads.org or call 678-342-7943.