Jackson earns MLK I Have A Dream Award

Bea Jackson has been the director at the Washington Street Community Center since 2002 and believes the center is doing work that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been proud of for young people in the community. - Staff photo by Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith

Bea Jackson has been the director at the Washington Street Community Center since 2002 and believes the center is doing work that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been proud of for young people in the community. - Staff photo by Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith

COVINGTON -- A tireless worker on behalf of children, Bea Jackson, director of the Washington Street Community Center, was named the 2013 recipient of the I Have A Dream Award. Jackson was lauded Sunday at the annual Newton County Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance at Porter Memorial Auditorium.

The prestigious award is reserved for one whose service to the community embodies the tenets of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s philosophy on social justice and community empowerment, as well as having made contributions that are nondiscriminatory, who models a spirit of peace and unity and one who will initiate and support change. Other attributes looked for in a person who is the recipient of the award are a humble spirit, steadfastness in convictions and one who fosters and supports education on all levels.

"I was very surprised and honored to say the least," she said Thursday, adding that when she looks at the plaque it still seems "surreal" to see her name on it.

"It actually makes you reflect and say, 'Wow, this is quite a distinction to have,' and it's nice to know that the work you do is recognized by the people for whom you really serve."

Jackson admits she is not a Covington native, but said, "I definitely feel every bit of one."

She and her husband, Wick, moved to the area in 2000 and she said she spent a couple of years getting to know people and how things worked in Newton County.

"I was quite impressed and I really feel like Covington is home to me," she said. "I know so many people and I can remember in earlier days going out into the public and not knowing a single soul. Now I feel like I know people."

She came to work at the Washington Street Center in 2002 and said she wanted to build on the rich history of the center which was founded in 1996 by longtime educators T.K. and Louise Adams.

"Louise saw the need from her experience and working with children and began an after-school program," Jackson said.

Jackson was initially brought on board to run a summer camp and through that effort, a myriad of programs and opportunities have developed.

"I was so excited to do it and I recall having done my homework in terms of what I thought would be good for the community at large and I thought a lot of our young people really didn't have a lot to do. I thought people were as loving as possible; however, for a group of kids, they had nothing happening for them outside of school," she said. "I wanted to start there so I decided to start with middle school and high school students and do a Leadership in Training program. That has evolved into many different types of programming opportunities for us."

With the after-school program still functioning as the cornerstone of programming at the center, Jackson says today through the efforts of community volunteers and helpers, they serve citizens of all ages.

The after-school program is now dedicated to youngsters in kindergarten through fifth grade and 35 youngsters meet Monday through Friday for the program.

"We also have a real strong and very active Girl Scout program made up of 25 girls who are competing and taking opportunities on a national level in Scouting, so we're very proud of the good work they have done," Jackson said.

Other programs that are ongoing include a Band School taught by T.K. Adams for youngsters who want to have an additional musical experience beyond just taking band at school; a grandparents Kinship Care Program for those who find themselves parenting their grandchildren; a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Lab that is run by a community volunteer; and each Friday is dedicated to Fun and Fitness, whereby the after-school students are encouraged to get out from behind their computers and books and participate in fun and exciting activities.

Among the community partners who bring programs to the center are representatives with General Mills.

"Once a month they bring a diversity program for our kids which takes them to countries all around the world through song, games, dance and foods," Jackson explained. "They get an opportunity to experience what it might be like to live there and hopefully incite them to want to learn more and perhaps even visit some of those places," she said.

Jackson said it is her desire that the programs offered at the center are more than just something to keep the children busy.

"I want them to have meaning and be something the young students can learn from and build upon," she said.

And, in thinking about it since receiving the I Have A Dream Award Sunday, she said she thinks that what goes on at Washington Street really does reflect Dr. King's teachings.

"And the one common denominator is that we all care about Newton County," she said. "I have not met one person that didn't have love and heart for Newton County. To see a community such as this one who cares about the people and makes sure the people, such as the children here at Washington Street, have opportunities is so refreshing."

Jackson and her husband are the parents of two grown daughters and have one grandchild expected in May, but her family doesn't stop there.

"All of these kids that come through the door here, they seem like my kids," she said.

And she praised her husband for his work at Washington Street and his efforts in the community.

"He is here by my side every day, and he's been here since I walked through the doors back in 2002," she said. "He is a key volunteer and one of my biggest fans. He and I work along together and really I owe him a lot of gratitude and he really should have shared this award with me."

Jackson said she is always looking for volunteers and contributions and invited members of the community to stop by the center at 4138 School St. or call 770-786-4002.

"If they want to make a difference in their community in some way, this is a good place to start," she said.