“Our kids are just like any other kids “ they have a lot of energy,” said Scott Merritt, executive director of KidsPeace Bowdon.
The new athletic facilities will allow the students to work off that energy, and allow the school to start offering physical education classes for its students. The gym will also provide a place for many activities for the students that previously would have required a trip to community recreational facilities.
A trip to the gym on the property is much easier to arrange then transporting the students to another facility, Merritt said.
The school opened in 2004. The residential facility, which serves about 60 students with behavioral and mental health issues, has been working for two years to raise money for the project through private donations. All that work paid off and the school held a ground breaking for the new facility Friday morning.
The Rev. Darryl Hessel, who conducts a Bible study with the students each week, told those gathered for Friday’s groundbreaking how much the school has helped the community.
“When I first came to Bowdon ... Bowdon was in trouble,” Hessel said. “The city really just showed a lot of signs of deterioration. Shops were boarded up. Streets didn’t look so hot. There were some house(s) beginning to fall apart, and there were a bunch of empty buildings that used to be factories.”
When he first came to the town as a young minister, Hessel was a little worried. But he did see some signs of improvement in the construction of Jonesville Middle School, and a senior citizens center. So, Hessel and his fellow Bowdon ministers prayed for the town.
“We prayed for God to bring something into this community, where it would produce a new economic strength and that would be good for the community,” Hessel said. “Then one day, we heard about KidsPeace. I believe that God brought KidsPeace to this place.”
The proof, he said, is in the ease with which the school settled in the community, and in the good work it has been able to accomplish since it has been here. While KidsPeace has met with resistance in many communities, the Bowdon community accepted the school with open arms, and ever since it came, the school has flourished, he said.
The students at KidsPeace receive treatment along with their classes, so they can overcome the challenges they face. The average stay is about 10 months as the students are treated and then they return to their homes, therapeutic foster homes or group homes, Merritt said.
Tom Upchurch, who was involved in bringing the school to Bowdon, is pleased to be involved in the school’s good work. As a former superintendent of the Carrollton City Schools, he was very interested in the chance to help children in need.
“It’s been a real love of mine to do this,” Upchurch said.
KidsPeace has been operating as a charter school since it opened. But after a change in the laws defining charter schools, KidsPeace no longer fit the definition and is now associated with the Carroll County public school system. The school system and the administrators of KidsPeace are now in talks to figure out exactly what that will mean to the school and the system.
KidsPeace plans to operate just as it always has, and its funding will just be funneled through the county system, said Will Iseman, CEO of KidsPeace.
The school district won’t be funding KidsPeace, the state will, he said. KidsPeace will pay any administrative costs the school district incurs from the relationship, Iseman said.
“We do the same arrangement in other localities,” Iseman said.