GIVE allows transformation

Published 7:30 pm Friday, January 29, 2010

Contributing Editor

Tina Billingslea wasn’t going to miss it, and she didn’t.
On Thursday, Billingslea, who was in a hospital Tuesday, was one of three people to graduate from the Purpose of God Annex Outreach Center’s Gang Intervention Vocational Education program.
“I wasn’t about to miss it,” Billingslea said moments after the program’s first-ever graduation ceremony concluded in the Council Chambers of Washington’s City Hall.
GIVE provided her and fellow graduates John Harvey and David Roberson a second chance at living productive lives instead of destructive lives, she said.
“It has turned around my life — completely,” Billingslea said. “It’s a big help.”
Funded by a two-year grant, GIVE fights gang-related problems, according to Purpose of God Annex Outreach Center staff and personnel with the state’s juvenile justice and delinquency prevention programs. Currently, four known gangs operate in Beaufort County, with neighboring Pitt County home to at least 20 known gangs.
GIVE works with up to 24 youths (ages 14 through 24) who are at risk of becoming affiliated with gangs. GIVE provides vocational education training and opportunities as alternatives to becoming gang members. The three graduates are employed, with Billingslea and Roberson working for the Washington Housing Authority. At times, Harvey can be seen dressed as the Statue of Liberty in front of Liberty Tax Service on Carolina Avenue in Washington.
State Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, told each graduate that with their graduation from GIVE, he or she has “opened doors” to a better life and better world. Williams praised the graduates for working hard and “overcoming a life of hardship.”
Mother Regina Jones, who with her husband, Bishop Samuel Jones Jr., helped found Purpose of God Annex Outreach Center, told the graduates, “We are so proud you have chosen to turn your lives around.”
Washington Mayor Archie Jennings likened the graduates to prodigal children, similar to the prodigal son mentioned in the Bible.
“They turned (their lives) around and came home. That’s to be celebrated,” Jennings said.
Holding the graduation in the Council Chambers was appropriate, he said. What was once a courtroom where prosecutions and litigation occurred was transformed into a place where public servants help govern others, Jennings said. The graduates know about transformation, he said.
“Their lives are being transformed by this program,” Jennings said.
Jerry Langley, chairman of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, had similar feelings.
“As of this moment, you have turned your lives completely around,” he told the graduates, all of which he knows.
As if offering proof of her transformation, Billingslea said, “The same state that locked me up is the same state that I now work for.”