By Maureen Smith
A pair of Mississippi natives have taken over community centers in the Delta, marking a new generation of leadership. Carla Ross is the new director of the Tutwiler Community Education Center and Stanley Lang is the director of the Jonestown Family Center for Education and Wellness.
Both centers were started by women religious. Sister Maureen Delaney, SNJM, left to become the provincial of her community while Sister Teresa Shields, SNJM, retired and went home to Seattle.
Ross is no stranger to a Catholic community center. The Mound Bayou native is the former assistant director of the St. Gabriel Center there. She continues to serve on the board for St. Gabriel, which was started by the Sisters of Mercy and is now home to a community of Franciscan Sisters.
Ross holds a bachelor’s degree in family and human development and a master’s in community development. She believes Tutwiler already has a lot to offer. “I have never seen a community center so tied to the community,” said Ross. “The programs here are based on the town’s needs. I think that’s unique.” Tutwiler offers a variety of intergenerational programs from senior programs to after-school care, teen programs and summer education all the way to a gym where young people can have sports teams. A computer lab, music lessons and the quilters round out the offerings.
Ross said she is taking her first couple of months to learn about the programs and communicate with her staff so they can collaborate on broadening what is already in place and talk about where there may be gaps. “We have a teen program already where we discuss important topics. I would love to see that expand into a shadowing or mentoring program,” she said. This expansion would allow teens to interact with professionals so they could explore a career they may be interested in pursuing.
“Sustainability is important to me,” said Ross. “We will celebrate our 25th anniversary in June 2017 and I want to make sure this place is around for another 25 years,” she added. One of the key components of that is listening to the people in Tutwiler. “Given that I come from a small town I know how important places like this are,” she said. “I want people to know I am open to suggestions and input,” she said.
Lang grew up in Marks, Mississippi, just down the road from Jonestown. The opening at the Family Center fulfilled his wish to “get back home.” He has been the pastor at Anderson Street Church of Christ in Marks for 20 years, but has been commuting from Tennessee for his ministry. He graduated from Mississippi Valley State University with a bachelor in sociology with a concentration in social work and received a masters in child protection and juvenile justice from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He has 22 years of experience in social work through the Department of Children’s Services in Shelby County, Tenn., and spent an additional six years of counseling in the prison system in Holly Springs and at Parchman State Penitentary.
While he is pleased with the services Jonestown offers, he would like to look at ways to expand services to better fit community needs, such as extending the hours for the toddler program. He would like to offer his staff more professional development opportunities and empower them to become community ambassadors for the Family Center.
Jonestown offers a half-day toddler program as well as a Montessori pre-K program, parenting classes and a fitness center. “I go to the fitness center as much as I can and I would love to see other members of the staff there to help spread the word about it,” said Lang. He explained that he wants to take a holistic approach to community development, helping strengthen minds, bodies, spirits and community connections. Recently eight local churches donated money so their members could work out in the gym run by the family center.
Coming home, he said, “means everything. For years, even when I talk to members of my graduating class, we talk about how our home is suffering because educated people have left so the services are lacking. Having an opportunity to come back home before my retirement age – to be able to do something for my community, means a lot to me. Jonestown is the vehicle for me to do that and I am just so blessed,” said Lang. He has been married for 20 years and has two grown children, a grandson and a “grand-dog.”
Both Tutwiler and Jonestown raise their own operating funds. To learn more about the programs they offer or to support the programs, visit their websites: www.tutwilercenter.org and http://jonestownfamilycenter.com.
By Maureen Smith