Nearly every night, the local news reminds us of the atmosphere of violence that exists in and around our schools. Students. Impressionable students. At risk students. Is anyone making a difference?
The answer is yes. This month we will highlight Rev. Gene and Terrie Ann Coplin of Project L.E.E. (Learning and Earning Experiences). The mission of Project L.E.E., Inc. is to make students aware that personal attitudes and decision-making largely determine success or failure in life.
But the story behind the story is Gene Coplin himself; a man filled with passion for what he does. In his own words, Project L.E.E. was birthed out of a difficult season in his life. Gene was working as a teacher’s aide during the day, and as prison coordinator for Urban Christian Ministries in the evenings. After a number of years, Gene recognized students he had worked with in school were ending up in prison.
Gene grew tired of going to the funerals of young people, tired of hearing about shootings, tired of talk, talk, talk. His heart went out to them all, but especially to the young men.
Perhaps this is because Gene’s personal history was nearly a train wreck. As a young man, he was facing 35 years in prison on felony charges. But one special individual saw the potential in his life, and intervened on his behalf. The rest is history, and it is what has driven Gene and Terrie Ann to make a measurable difference for others at similar crossroads.
The Coplins have developed an award-winning curriculum that focuses on “Attitude Development.” As he says, the loser does not want to lose, but does not expect to win. Negative things happen to all of us, failure or success depends on how we respond. The key is found in an ancient proverb ‘death and life is in the power of the tongue.’ Words are powerful, not only the words we say to others, but the words we say to ourselves. Recognizing the truth of the proverb and embracing it is the antidote for what Gene calls “stinking thinking”.
Has it worked? Check out their website http://www.projectlee.org to read testimonials from principals, teachers, counselors, Board of Education members, students and even a City Court Judge! Our favorite is from seventh grade teacher, Steven Hepfer, regarding the impact of Project L.E.E. on a young lady in his class:
This letter is regarding S.R. She has been a very positive role model in my classroom. Her attitude towards her fellow classmates and her studies has improved since the beginning of the year. She shows respect for me as her teacher and for the environment of my classroom. I believe she has made great strides to improve her self-esteem and confidence in her ability to perform the work required to successfully pass seventh grade science.
Project L.E.E. started in the Buffalo Public Schools, and has been in a dozen Buffalo Public Schools over the years. At present, they are in Buffalo Public School #39, Sweet Home, Cheektowaga, and Niagara Falls. The newest project is a workshop to share this curriculum with teachers entitled Seven Sacred Secrets of Success: Changing At Risk Youth from Negative to Positive. Praise is already pouring in.
In addition, Gene and Terrie Ann are now training their students to be teachers of attitude development, peer-to-peer, for the purpose of empowerment. This involves taking students from school to school to share their own stories of attitude adjustment.
All of this hit home for me during our interview with Gene. As we sat there, tape recorder in hand, my mind went to a friend’s young daughter in second grade, who could be transformed by being a part of this kind of nurturing, life-giving program. Maybe your mind is wandering to an at-risk child you know, as well.
Or maybe your mind is traveling back to a time when you were young and at a crossroads. Was there someone who stepped in and helped change the direction you were heading? That person paid it forward on your behalf, and now is your chance to pay it forward for someone in the next generation. Today you have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. Research programs like Project L.E.E. that are making a difference today, and get involved. Together, we can make a difference.
P.O. Box 392
Buffalo, NY 14205
Rev. Al and his wife, Deb, are doing excellent work in the community, but Al feels he could do it better if someone had an old Apple laptop to throw his way. Such is the life of a benevolent community servant.