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LIFE celebrates 10-year goal

On Friday, Learning Is For Everyone (LIFE) held a breakfast celebration at the Chamber of Commerce building in honor of reaching their 10-year goal.

Those in attendance consisted of students who achieved their GED through the program and numerous people who have supported this organization from the beginning.

According to Debbie McIntyre, director of the Decatur County CLCP, when this community program was initiated in 1999 as a project between the Bainbridge-Decatur County Chamber of Commerce and the Decatur County Adult Education Learning Center, a commitment was made to the state of Georgia to raise the literacy levels of 3,706 people in 10 years, a number representing half of the adults in the community that did not hold a high school diploma.

“We are proud to announce that LIFE has reached that goal—3,706 people have either received their GED, moved closer to earning their GED, learned to read a newspaper or a Bible, learned to read to their babies or how to use an ATM,” McIntyre said in a recent Post-Searchlight article.

Members of the original Certified Literate Community Program (CLCP) board and evaluation team were also present. The original board was made up of retired educators, Chamber president, service delivery area director, local business owners, state agency representatives, ministers, bank presidents and GED graduates. The current board of directors is the executive board of the Chamber of Commerce, which includes a diverse representation of the community.

Starting LIFE was not easy. Money was one of the major issues. When McIntyre started out as Director, she went for several weeks, and sometimes months, without receiving a paycheck.

“The enthusiasm she has for the program is infectious,” Evelyn Clay, Chamber of Commerce president, said of what McIntyre’s ability to put herself last financially in order to mold the program into something.

Several people in the community who did not believe the program would turn into anything was also an obstacle. One of the doubters was Raymond Miles of Miles Realty.

“I had some doubts in my mind in the beginning whether they could do this or not. I didn’t think they could get those people who needed it to come and do it, but they did it,” he said. “I’m really proud.”

According to McIntyre, Miles, even with his doubts, allowed LIFE to use one of his buildings for six years; sometimes, the organization was unable to pay rent, but this didn’t bother Miles.

“When we moved out,” McIntyre said, “we had a little bill, and he let us donate that to the program.”

McIntyre opened the breakfast ceremony by thanking everyone who helped the LIFE program forget their money troubles and grow into what it is today. A few of these individuals were the Decatur County Board of Education who supported and encouraged involvement of LIFE with school children and teachers.

The Southwest Georgia Regional Library has been a true partner in this work by sharing grants, publicizing literacy activities, donating literacy materials and support.

“Mr. Max Langston, a Bainbridge businessman, left $50,000 in his will to be used for GED scholarships,” McIntyre said. “The Kirbo Charitable Trust has donated over $100,000 to support this work. There’s an amazing commitment from the community.”

Thanks to this program, Bainbridge is now a Certified Literate Community.

“Bainbridge is only the 27th certified literate community in the nation,” said Billie Izard, executive director of Georgia CLCP.

LIFE works hand-in-hand with the Adult Education program, a program that provides educational opportunities and GED preparation. McIntyre acts as the Adult Education public relations.

“My job is to get them students,” McIntyre said. “We are certainly in no competition.”

According to McIntyre, each individual has their own program; teachers help students, at their own speed, so they can pass the GED test which is equivalent of the high school graduation test. While the preparation and education is free, the GED test costs $95. But, thanks to the LIFE program, some lucky test-takers can receive a scholarship.

Students can enter at an age as young as 16, but, according to McIntyre, youth ages 16 to 18 must have parental permission.

“We encourage high school graduation,” said McIntyre. “We encourage kids to stay in school, but we provide a safety net for those who, for whatever reason, can’t complete high school.”

According to McIntyre, LIFE and the Adult Education Program want to make the community aware of low literacy levels and the number of people who don’t graduate from high school.

“We have to raise literacy and provide trained employees,” said McIntyre. “Literacy is not just about reading, it’s about health.”

According to McIntyre, the GED test is given monthly and registration is required at the Learning Center office, located next to the Board of Education Annex on Evans Street. The office is open for registration and education from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

Adult Education services are also available in the Technical Studies Building at Bainbridge College from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Call 248-2210 for information about the study program and the GED testing and registration schedule.