South Macon is more than what meets the eye.
Mercer University students have joined with the pastor of the Community Church of God to work on an initiative that empowers residents of the Bloomfield neighborhood to make their community their own.
Junior Aaron Scherf and senior Austin Harrison are helping pastor Jason McClendon with a project called the Bloomfield Community Empowerment Center to create more neighborhood involvement in Bloomfield.
Their plan is to create the Bloomfield Preparatory Academy, a charter school that will have a health clinic, psychiatric services, a community garden and a daycare, Harrison said.
“We know what works in community development, so now we’re trying to see what needs to work in Bloomfield,” Scherf said.
Harrison said that they want the charter school to be the hub of community development and that this model has been successful in different places, such as east Atlanta.
“It’s all about finding that anchor where you can just build everything else around,” Harrison said.
Scherf and Harrison began helping McClendon by gathering data about the community to discover its economic struggles.
Harrison said they found that 44 percent of the residents in Bloomfield were living under the poverty line, and the median family household income is around $13,000 per year.
Harrison said that the idea of a charter school originated from the closing of Barden Elementary School.
The closure caused around 400 kids to transfer to Southfield Elementary School, which already had around 850 students.
The charter school will be opened near the old Barden Elementary School, so the children that had to transfer can go to a school closer to their homes, Harrison said.
“The idea of an empowerment center is really helping people help themselves,” Scherf said.
Scherf said that the goal was to allow the neighborhood to take action and decide how they want their neighborhood to be.
The center will allow residents of the neighborhood to access resources closer to home and be connected with other resources in the Macon community, Scherf said.
Harrison said that they will offer workshops to teach empowering skills, such as resume building.
Along with those workshops, Harrison said they will begin a youth midnight basketball team, which is an initiative that was successful in the late ’90s by the Bibb County Sheriffs Department.
The basketball games will be held on Friday and Saturday nights around 10 p.m. to hopefully lower the crime rate in the Bloomfield neighborhood.
Catie Byrd, a freshman Mercer student, is the head of an initiative called Launch Training Camps, a non-profit intended to teach people leadership skills through basketball.
Byrd plans to incorporate this model into the youth basketball league to teach the residents of Bloomfield skills to get actively involved in their neighborhood’s development.
“The idea is to teach them the service and leadership in basketball and then to apply it to what they will be teaching in the other workshops,” Byrd said.
Scherf said that people tend to have a negative viewpoint of south Macon, but he said that they do not see the people of south Macon.
“There’s more to south Macon than just what people think of as south Macon,” Scherf said.