Westlake H.S. student, site coordinator share emotional journey on 11Alive

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Leala recalls her first day of school as a six-year old.

"I experienced a feeling that I was different because of my mixed race. The stares, the insults and the way people treated me in general, gave me the sense that people did not like me."

At a young age, Leala's family was ripped apart by abandonment and divorce. After relocation and her father's eventual remarriage, Leala found herself suffering from the harsh combination of neglect and abuse.

"My hair was hardly cared for, my bathing habits were bad, and my clothing was dingy, dirty and either too big or too small," she said.

Her physical appearance led to embarrassment, constant bullying and horribly low self-esteem.

Then in the ninth grade, Westlake High School CIS Site Coordinator Dr. Demona Warren came into Leala's life, provided her with one-on-one mentoring and embraced Leala with motherly love.

"Dr. Warren was like a net catching me and breaking my downward spiral," Leala said. "She's been the mother-figure I desperately needed. She's provided security and she's helped rebuild my confidence."

Leala was a candidate for Governor's Honors, selected for National Honors Society and was featured on 11Alive's morning show ATL&Co in November to share her story.

Read what Leala says below about the impact Dr. Warren and CIS of Atlanta has made in her life:

"What does is mean to live? I never knew until after 14 years of being ALIVE. Passively going through life unaware of what actions really meant. Unaware of what normal really looked like, and most of all, what would be predestined for my future?

Caramel. Cookies n’ Cream. Domino. Half-baked. Zebra. Skunk. Mulatto - I've heard it all from my first memory to now. I didn't know what it meant to be called mulatto as a young girl. I was born in North Carolina, a baby - naive and innocent - knowing no right or wrong only that I’m seeing light for the first time. However, before I was even conceived, my life was predicted. I will go through unlikely struggles to be part of something so massive it would take said struggles to get there.

Starting school in the south, I experienced ethnic dilemmas in school and in public even when I was too young to know what they meant. I was happy though because I remained in my father’s unhealthy bubble, he made the insults good by calling me these things himself so I believed they were compliments and I smiled. It wasn't until the divorce of my parents and being in the dark that I discovered their true meanings.

My mother left my father without telling me where she was going and only taking her two boys. She left the youngest three and I with my father, which became too much for him alone so we abandoned that home to move to New York with his parents. At this time I was six going on seven. I still was ignorant under my father’s wing and knew nothing about life. I misbehaved often and I was very headstrong. At this time, I was in kindergarten - devastated and confused that my parents weren't together and even more upset of their new partners.

Upon living with my father and stepmother, I faced neglect and abuse, which only deteriorated my mindset even more. I did my best to remain a bright uplifting person, but this became a complicated task as time proceeded.

I went to school with low levels of confidence due to my physical appearance and embarrassment of still wetting the bed. My hair was hardly cared for, my bathing habits were not supervised nor enforced, and the clothing I wore was dingy, dirty and either too big or too small. If my appearance and stench wasn't enough to abate my chances of a friend, I was socially awkward. I never said the right things and when I finally thought I had a friend, I was only teased.

Bus rides home in elementary school dismayed me. The kids would throw papers at me, pull my nappy hair, call me out of my name, and dump out my book bag. Tearfully, I would pick my things up and carry on as though this were a permanent part of my agenda.

In middle school, things began to improve. I made my first real friend and I started taking some control of my health. By eighth grade I had taken control of as much of my life as I could, but I couldn't get past the scars of the past, so I also held myself back. Then I meet Dr. Warren.

Immediately when we met we connected. The moment she took my hand in hers then pulled me in for a hug- it changed me. Dr. Warren provided the abyss of love that I had missed out on all those years - the proper attention and care I sought through my life.

Dear Dr. Warren has been the net to catch me in my downward spiral, the steady ground to keep me up right and most of all, the mother-figure I desperately needed. She’s provided security and tools necessary for me to succeed in school and in life."

H.E. Holmes students receive free books through RIF

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Hamilton E. Holmes Elementary School students received free books through a RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) event sponsored by Communities In Schools of Atlanta on Monday, Dec. 15.

Every student within the school was provided the opportunity to select their own reading book to add to their personal home library, and strengthen their enjoyment of learning.Howard University alumni partnered as CIS of Atlanta volunteers to help distribute books throughout the school and aid students in decorating bookmarks.

Students also received snacks and watched the movie "Frozen."

Check out photos from the event below:

Breakfast Chat & Chew highlights effective CIS strategies to support Clayton County students

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Communities In Schools of Atlanta hosted a Breakfast Chat & Chew event Wednesday, Dec. 17 to allow Clayton County school leaders, teachers, students, parents and partners to discuss successful strategies that may benefit the county schools and communities.

Held at Elite Scholars Academy, the breakfast was co-hosted by State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-75), State Rep. Valencia Stovall (D-74), and Clayton County School Board Member Jessie Goree (D-3).

Elite Scholars Academy Principal Dr. Shonda Shaw and State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-39) welcomed the group of more than 30 Clayton County stakeholders and CIS of Atlanta staff. CIS of Atlanta Executive Director Frank Brown, Esq., explained the resources and community partnerships needed in order to aid students toward high school graduation.

A video was also shown, in which students share their personal stories of triumph made possible through the support of CIS of Atlanta.

As the group enjoyed a hot breakfast catered by Beverly’s Catering Services, a panel of CIS of Atlanta site coordinators and school personnel expressed the importance of the organization’s role within the lives of students and families. The panel included Towers High School CIS Site Coordinator Derec Oby, DeKalb County Area Superintendent Dr. Ralph Simpson, Clarkson High School Ninth Grade Assistant Principal Eric Robinson, Clarkson Counselor Ricki Hawkins, Clarkston CIS Site Coordinator Calleb Obumba, Hamilton E. Holmes Elementary School RTI Specialist Princess Pelzer and Hamilton E. Holmes Elementary CIS Site Coordinator Dedra Cochran.

Among the several elected officials, educators and community leaders in attendance were Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day, Clayton County Chairman Jeffrey Turner, Clayton County Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Yulonda Beauford, Clayton State University President Dr. Tim Hynes, Atlanta Technical College President Dr. Alvetta Thomas and United Christian Fellowship Senior Pastor Ernest Childs.

Check out the article featured in Clayton News Daily.

See photos from the event below:

Donation of athletic wear allows students to stand tall, focus on learning

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Communities In Schools of Atlanta is able to provide students in need with new athletic wear due to the support of an anonymous donor.

CIS of Atlanta students face a wide range of struggles every day, including poverty, neglect, homelessness and violence. How can students remain optimistic about their futures when they feel like their personal hardships are impossible to overcome?

Coming to school with tattered sneakers and T-shirts in the winter adds to the physical and emotional obstacles our students face. Thanks to the donations of CIS advocates, support of school staff and the CIS model, students are able to learn in the classroom, and teachers are free to teach.

“Some of these kids have never had a pair of brand new shoes,” said Dr. Demona Warren, CIS site coordinator at Westlake High School. “Donations are greatly needed because the kids we serve aren't the ones who live in million-dollar homes. During the holidays we receive referrals from families who simply want one clothing item so that they can give something to their child on Christmas.”

CIS site coordinators are also providing the donation of athletic shoes, socks and clothes as an incentive for caseload students who make improvements in their behavior, attendance and/or academics.

“The donation of shoes means a lot to our students because they don’t have a lot of things,” Warren said. “[Students] are working hard toward getting great grades because they know they have a chance to receive these premier incentives.”

It takes a whole community to help kids achieve in school. YOU can also help change the picture of education for students in metro Atlanta by donating your time, money and resources.

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