Hood to the woods

Inner city youths to enjoy Pulaski County

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

This coming Monday, three van loads of children from inner city Atlanta will arrive in Pulaski to experience the sights and sounds of country living. This will be the 13th year that students from a nonprofit private school, known as the Bright Futures Academy, will make the field trip to Pulaski County from the Peach State. The name of this program is Hoods to the Woods.

Phillip and Gayle Ross, founders of the Bright Futures Academy, will accompany 35 teenagers to the Pulaski Church of God’s Family Life Center, where they will be welcomed by Pastor Don Jones, Youth Pastor Jeremy Fleener, Outreach Coordinator Shawn Lawson and Pulaski County Assistant Administrator Anthony Akers. The Pulaski Church of God will house these urban visitors for the weeklong duration of their stay.

It was Akers, along with Bright Future Academy co-founder Phillip Ross, who conceived of the idea of Hoods to the Woods, which seeks to expose inner city children to the pleasures of rural living. Bright Futures Academy began as a school mentoring program associated with the City of Refuge, which opened its doors in 2003 in Atlanta’s most crime ridden neighborhood.

According to their website, the City of Refuge seeks to partner with individuals and families in crisis to clear a pathway out of poverty and into a thriving community. They do this by offering free housing, medical care and education. Bright Futures Academy grew from being a mentoring program in the City of Refuge, to being a learning institution for middle and high school age students.

By 2003, Anthony Akers who had traveled previously to Atlanta to do volunteer work, was asked by City of Refuge founder Bruce Deel to do a basketball clinic for inner city middle school students.

“The kids probably expected to see a 6’ 4” black guy walk in,” Akers describes the experience. “Instead, they saw a short white guy in his thirties. It was going over like a lead balloon but then they saw me shoot and I made several shots in a row and they were like, ‘this guy knows what he’s talking about.’ It was very much a God inspired moment.”

It was then that Akers and Phillip Ross, who accompanied him on his basketball clinic escapade, bonded and decided to make Hoods to Woods an annual field trip.

After settling in at the Pulaski Church of God’s Family Life Center, the Hoods to the Woods crew will attend the Pulaski Yankees baseball game at Calfee Park Monday night. Tuesday, the teens will visit the Volvo plant, where they will be allowed to take a drive on the facilities test track. It’ll be time for a swim Wednesday and maybe a game of disc golf at Randolph Park. On Thursday, Akers will host the Hoods to the Woods crew at his family property on Big Reed Island Creek in Carroll County. Friday, the youngsters will visit Claytor Lake State Park and then will be fed dinner by Ruth Kirtner, Anthony Aker’s mother. The group will visit the area’s iconic waterfall with a hike up to the Cascades Saturday. Sunday, the youths will visit Pulaski Board of Supervisors member Joe Guthrie’s farm to ride horses and check out the automatic milking machine. The group departs the following Monday.

All in all, an action packed seven-day field trip, but what do the Hoods to the Woods kids think of Pulaski County?

“They think we live in Paradise,” Akers responded. “And I tell that to kids who live here who may not like it here. The inner-city kids think we live in Disney World.”

The Hoods to the Woods program was launched in 2004 and has been hosted every year, except last year, by the Pulaski Church of God. The program was canceled last year because the massive fire that brought down the church had only recently occurred. This year the Pulaski Church of God again agreed to house the group and Akers is grateful for their help for this program.

“It takes a team,” said Akers. “We look forward to and are very happy to host this program to show them what a great place we live in.”

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