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‘Stepping’ toward improvement

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New group aims to enrich the lives of Shelbyville youth

By Scotty McDaniel

Norris Beckley wants to clean up the streets of Shelbyville. To start, he needs help cleaning up the old Shelby County Community Center gym.

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It’s there, at 121 Martin Luther King Jr. Street in the community of Martinsville, that he hopes to establish Stepping Stone Youth Enrichment Inc., a program he created earlier this summer to improve the lives of underprivileged kids.

“I see kids that are on drugs," he said. "Teenage pregnancy is at an all-time high. The dropout rate in our school system is something that needs to be improved. So I put together a program that addresses some of the needs of the kids.”

Stepping Stone, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, will function through the generosity of volunteers from churches, civic organizations, and the Shelby County Public School system.

Beckley, president and CEO of the group, said the full capacity for the program is around 75 kids. The target child is any from ages 11 to 18 who is from a low-income background, with single parents, or who is struggling in the classroom.

“A lot of individuals come from broken homes. They don’t’ have role models, and we just want to build positive relationships, self esteem and give them a program to help build that character,” he said.

The program has numerous elements to benefit the kids, including one called Project Homework.

“It gives kids an opportunity to take it a step further as far as improving their grades and their attendance to schools,” he said.

Computer training will also be available to help familiarize kids with today’s technology.

“Some kids don’t have any access to a computer or any knowledge of a computer,” he said. “So we’ll have staff to work with the kids on how to utilize a computer, because we feel that’s going to be very important in the job market.”

Sports and recreation will also be a big part of the program. Basketball will be the primary sport, but baseball and golf will also be featured.

“We also have an equine program to teach kids about the horse industry in Kentucky,” he said.

In short, the goal is to provide a safe and constructive place where they can play and learn, he said.

“I’m just really excited about the opportunity to bring this to Shelby County. It’s been a vision of mine. My grandfather, the late Edward Beckley, kind of laid the foundation. He passed to torch to me, and I’m trying to pass the torch to others,” said Beckley, who helped lead Shelby County High School to the 1978 basketball championship and went on to play at Morehead State.

The nuts and bolts

Before the program can really launch into full gear, there’s much work to be done with the old gym.

Beckley is seeking volunteers to help with the gym cleaning Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

So far he said Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty has committed employees from public works and other departments to come and assist, as are students and employees from Whitney Young Job Corps center and volunteers from civic clubs, churches and schools. 

Beckley hopes to have the program up and running by fall, but when the dust clears Saturday, he said he will reassess the building’s status and create a new timeline. For now, there are some definite repairs in need.

“The building really hadn’t been utilized for probably the last ten years. It needs a lot of work. Structurally it’s in good shape, but some of the other stuff has been neglected over the years and needs a new touch,” he said.

The roof needs to be redone. A fresh coat of paint is needed throughout. The furnace and air conditioning system is going to have to be looked at. The playground equipment is old and broken, and the plumbing is going to have be redone.

“At this point in time, it’s not safe for kids to go in and play,” he said.

Beckley spoke on behalf of the program to the Shelbyville City Council last month, and the council has since given $5,000 toward his efforts.

But as a non-profit, the public’s help is needed in two forms.

People can donate money or their time as a volunteer, he said.

“Volunteer to help in any positive way,” he said. “Kids need positive role models in the community. These young kids are the future.”