By Josh Heath

With all of the turmoil in the world, teenagers need guidance and encouragement now more than ever. That’s the aim of Project Impact Augusta, a grassroots initiative that provides mentoring, leadership and life skills training for young men in ninth through 12th grades. “We definitely saw a need,” says Jeff Pooser, Executive Director of the E3 Leadership Foundation, a local nonprofit that sponsors Project Impact. Founded in 2017, Project Impact has 13 volunteer advisors who teach the teens practical life skills, including money management, dependability and responsibility. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, advisors would meet with students in groups of four or five every other Saturday. Now, these meetings are virtual and take place via Zoom. “We miss them, and they miss us,” Pooser says. The program lasts throughout the school year, beginning in August and ending in May. The 2019-2020 program ended in March due to the pandemic.

Advisors stay in regular contact with the students to monitor their progress and provide support. Because many of the participants are now attending school online, they have also added individualized virtual tutoring services provided by Richmond County teachers, college students and professional tutors. To promote financial literacy, Project Impact has partnered with First Community Bank, which has provided checking accounts for all participants. The bank also has a deposit match program, which means that if the young men meet monthly savings goals, First Community will match their savings. Another focus of the program is mental health. Pooser says they’ve hired a licensed psychotherapist to perform a psychosocial assessment of each participant to determine whether further mental health treatment is needed. One of the topics the groups discuss is civil unrest and how that affects the young men.

To be accepted, students must submit an application and complete a brief interview, he says. Once accepted, they’re allowed to remain in the program until they graduate from high school. Interest in the program has grown so much that the organizers have discussed expanding it to allow more participants. In 2017, about 20 young men submitted applications, but this year, the program is at full capacity after receiving nearly 50 applications. According to Pooser, the biggest challenge is being unable to accept everyone who wants to join.

For the first two years, the program was funded by its advisors, which he refers to as an “act of love.” With funds from the Community Foundation Grant, Project Impact has now expanded its outreach activities, including taking participants to visit Augusta Technical College to learn more about auto mechanics and culinary arts. “We have a pretty good relationship with them there,” Pooser says.

What Pooser, who also works as Project Manager in the Richmond County Tax Commissioner’s Office, enjoys most is watching the young men develop throughout the program. He also loves to hear success stories from participants, particularly when they recognize their own growth. Parents have told Pooser they’ve noticed their sons’ improved confidence and communication skills. The program also strongly emphasizes community service. The young men participate in the Miracle Mile Walk and City Serve, which involves cleaning up neglected properties, he says. In the past three years, Project Impact has already influenced so many lives, and there’s still more to come in the future.

Photo provided by Project Impact