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Released August 15, 2003

GRANT HELPS SOUTHERN MISS SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK
PROMOTE THE ARTS TO HATTIESBURG AT-RISK YOUTH

HATTIESBURG - The Southern Miss School of Social Work's Family Network Partnership (FNP) has received a $7,500 grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission to promote the arts among Hattiesburg-area youth at high risk for delinquent behavior. The FNP's Public Art Project has enjoyed continuous funding from the Arts Commission for the past six years.

Over that time, the project has seen artists from all disciplines - most of them Southern Miss students and faculty - who work with area children in varying circumstances.

Some are youth held at the Forrest County Youth Detention Center, while others are children whose circumstances and backgrounds put them at high risk for getting into trouble.

"We consider all of these kids at risk for delinquency," said Dr. Michael Forster, director of the School of Social Work. "We by no means think they're all going to become delinquents, but they have the circumstances that we know correlate to delinquency."

Coming from poverty, a single-parent home or having exposure to bad examples in high-crime neighborhoods can create those circumstances. Most at-risk children often have a great deal unsupervised free time on their hands.

"We know that kids don't get in trouble after midnight," Forster said. "They get in trouble between three o'clock and 7 p.m., when there is no one supervising them."

Providing structured activities through involvement in the arts has had a positive impact on the lives of children who have participated, Forster said.

"The number of kids who re-offend after being involved in the program is not even one-third of what would be expected without them being involved in the program," Forster said. "But we qualify that a little bit by saying kids who participate regularly."

The Public Art Project has its roots in Lowndes County, where years ago the youth court there began getting at-risk youth involved in the arts. When the Arts Commission got wind of the practice, the organizations began funding similar enterprises around the state, including the one at Southern Miss.

The project, which is administered by Forster and Timothy Rehner, assistant director of the School of Social Work, has led to the creation of several visible works of art around Hattiesburg. Among them are the large totem at the Hattiesburg Zoo and the Obelisk at the Robinson Place public-housing community.

This year's project will likely include activities centered on dance and writing, Forster said.

Delinquency prevention is the thread that runs throughout everything the FNP does. In addition to the Public Art Project, those activities include a variety of ongoing programs set up in an after-school setting. These include tutoring and various types of recreation, as well as more time- and work-intensive undertakings. One of these has area youth working to repair donated bicycles, which are then given to children living in foster homes.

The bicycle repair activities take place Boys and Girls Club on McKinnis Street in Hattiesburg. Other places the FNP operates from include the community center at Robinson Place and space provided free of charge by the local Housing Authority Board, Forster said.

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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM

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