PULASKI —A faith-based Atlanta nonprofit is bringing some of its services to residents in Pulaski County.
City of Refuge is absorbing the Rock Youth Center in the town of Pulaski. The center currently holds a five-week summer camp and Tuesday night activities such as tutoring and dinner during the school year. Joe Blankenship has run the Rock program since 2006. He said he and City of Refuge Atlanta founder and CEO, Bruce Deel, saw an opportunity to expand the program in Pulaski.
“I’ve known Bruce for 25-plus years, and we have talked on and off for a while about doing something here in the county since he has ties to the area,” Blankenship said.
Deel said that he spent many years in Virginia and had family in the county. Additionally, he was the pastor at the Pulaski Church of God for a brief stint in the early 1990s.
“I have always had a special place in my heart for this area and Pulaski is in need of some of the services we provide,” he said.
According to town and county officials, what exactly City of Refuge will be doing at the old Claremont Elementary School has caused some confusion among concerned citizens who live near the school.
Some citizens contacted County Administrator Jonathan Sweet concerned that a homeless shelter or food pantry might be going into the building, but government and City of Refuge officials say that just isn’t the case.
Blankenship said that the building will host an after-school program of about 20-25 kids to start out that will run five days a week and consist of tutoring, recreational activities and dinner for the children. Other activities may include test prep for some of the older high school students. He said ages will range from kindergarten to 10th grade.
The other component will focus on job training and placement for adults during the day. Blankenship said the programs will focus on unemployed individuals and those with lower-income jobs who are trying to enter the skilled labor workforce. He said that in addition to 10-week classes other services such as job fairs and referrals to those who need other services will also be given.
Blankenship will be the CEO of the new Refuge. The group has signed a 20-year lease with the Pulaski County Economic Development Authority, who acquired the building from the county last year.
He said that volunteers will run the programs at first but as donations grow and the chapter gets bigger the plan is to add paid staff. The hope is to raise funds through local churches as well as employers that will benefit from the day programs and job training. Additionally, the Atlanta branch will provide funding as well.
Sweet said that part of the lease agreement states that City of Refuge will put up $1 million towards renovating the second floor and the building’s roof over the duration of the lease.
“I see this as a major win for the county. I’ve seen the work Joe has done with these kids already and it’s great. Sometimes they just need someone to love on them and to care. He and his wife do a great job of that,” he said.
Assistant County Administrator Anthony Akers said that the old elementary school, believed to be built in the 1960s, was no longer used by the county after 2005 when the new Pulaski Elementary School opened. Since then, it has been a variation of an alternative school between 2007-11 and 2014 until now, but it will be closing when City of Refuge is set to move in in early October.
Deel said that if the organization were to expand its reach and start providing something like a homeless shelter or food pantry that it would not be at Claremont.
“We wouldn’t put those types of facilities in a residential neighborhood. We would find a more appropriate location for that sort of thing,” he said.
Deel also said that while he followed the required procedures with the EDA during the lease process, he wishes he would have held a at least one public forum, which he believes would have alleviated some of the misconceptions throughout the community.