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HELP DESK | Helping a pre-school built on tragedy

10:36 AM, Mar 22, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Recently, the 11Alive Help Desk turned its attention to the Albert T. Mills Enrichment Center -- a free pre-school in the Thomasville projects, born 17 years ago out of tragedy.

"I have to hold on to that hope," said Pastor Rosa Arnold. "because if I don't, then it just won't be so good."

For Pastor Arnold, hope breathes in an old church in the heart of the projects. The church houses the school that she has made her life's work.

In 1995, Arnold was pastoring in Detroit when her son Albert -- "the protector of his big brothers", she calls him -- was killed in Southeast Atlanta while working at a convenience store for the holidays.

"These guys came in on a Friday night, robbed the store, and they shot him twice in the back with a .45 Magnum," Arnold recalled.

As she grieved Albert's death, the pastor couldn't help but focus on the two young men responsible -- specifically, the poverty-laden, violence-heavy neighborhood that raised them. That's when her grief turned into action.

Within three months of her son's death, Pastor Arnold began the Albert T. Mills Enrichment Center; today it serves more than 60 children between 3 and 5 years old.

"Hearing them learn and reciting the alphabet and spelling words, they get knowledge, and it means something to them," Arnold said.

The pastor's commitment to the school reaches all the way down to the two days a week when she picks up the kids herself.

"We pass by the federal penitentiary," Arnold said of the route to pick up the kids. "There's someone getting killed over here every day."

It's all done on a shoestring budget; Rosa and her colleagues pay a month-to-month lease at the old church, and they are well short of supplies.

And that is how they crossed paths with the 11Alive Help Desk and its captain, Bill Liss.

"We got an e-mail saying, 'Wouldn't it be nice if 11Alive did a story on Pastor Rosa?'" Liss recalled. "We said, maybe we should go a step beyond that. So I called Pastor Rosa and I said, 'If you had a wish list for these 3-to-5-year-olds, what is it you would want?'"

The wish list was clear: books, food, and furniture.

Within days, the Help Desk had lined up supply donations from Kroger (food), The School Box (toys and games), Barnes & Noble (books), and GSI Office Environments (tables and chairs for the students).

"For Rosa Arnold, she is gonna get everything on her wish list," Liss said.

Earlier this month, the Help Desk assembled outside and surprised Arnold with the big news -- as well as a bunch of presents for the kids.

"I am so thankful," Arnold said afterwards. "I feel like if I can be a small part of someone else's life, that gives me the joy that I'm doing something in my life that God would be pleased with."

For more about the Albert T. Mills Enrichment Center, visit their website.

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