In the trying times 2020 has brought, a group of local men have been working together to help make Charlton a better place. Local pastor Antwon Nixon, with the help of friends, neighbors, and fellow pastors, has started a Youth Empowerment group.

“I feel like there’s a gap between generations that is waiting for a mediator to fill,” said Pastor Nixon. “I’m at an age and position where I can sit in the middle to bring the sides and issues together, as well to bring resources together.”

No one can control the situation they are born into, which effects the way one acts. Nixon says too many people are not trying to find the reason why a child or teenager is acting the way they are, which is a big part of the problem.

“When we’re born, we want to be heard. When a baby cries, we try to find out how to help,” he said, “We all cry out in different ways, so we have to meet these kids where they are. If we don’t listen, people find ways to make us listen and address what they’re doing.”

He says one of the biggest issues facing the youth of today is education – not academically, but for everyday life. Being an electrician by trade himself, Nixon has invited friends of his who work in a trade to mentor those in the group. His hope is these young men will see there are other options.

“We’ve had athletes go pro and for  some in a small town, it seems like the only option. So we’re trying to show more trades – more options – for them to find a passion and propose,” he said. “I just wonder if I had known about this ten years ago, where would I be?”

Members of the group are working to utilize the resources Folkston has to offer, to centralize the community, and to work to open the lines of communication in order to help one another.

“We need to be more apt to help. We often look at a job as if it’s too big. We have to think, ‘what can I do to help?’ stated Nixon. “There is no bigger appreciation to the one who helped the most when everyone was needed. It’s greater to help as a whole.”

For now, the group is made up of seven kids, so the number of mentees does not outnumber the number of mentors. They’re still looking for mentors so the outreach 

“There are enough good people in Folkston to help Folkston,” he said, “We won’t save everyone, but if we can help just one – it’s worth it.”

Eventually, the plan is to spread out to more than just trades, but into contacting financial advisors and learning how to do taxes. As a part of the Be Better Program, members of the group can earn gift certificates for awards such as Highest GPA, Most Improved GPA, Best Attendance and more over each nine weeks as a way to incentivize each student to work harder.

As the kids get more excited about being a part of the group, the youth will begin to involve their friends, allowing the good work to grow. Sponsors of the group are working to purchase boots for those interested in trades and to help cover costs of trips and snacks for the youth to enjoy.

“It’s a part of real life and the earlier you can get educated in these things, the better the curve will be,” stated Nixon, “It took me too long to get here and not all of my friends made it.”

Antwon has made it his mission to show these kids how he got to where he is and to motivate each person to not make the same mistakes he did. He says the world will offer evil for nothing, so they want to offer good.

“Some slip through the cracks. I’ve seen some of my friends slip and it hurt me,” he shared, “But it also inspired me to do better and to help others to do the same.”

The year has offered a lot of negativity, but Nixon has made the decision not to focus too greatly on the stress so it doesn’t keep him from the good he can accomplish. His motto is to handle his business and allow God to handle His.

He shared, “Negativity gives you a greater burden to carry that you don’t have to have. Everyday is hard enough.”

Nixon believes life often presents unanswered questions, which is something people must learn to relinquish. Humans are born with an innate want to find purpose, which he says gives power to those who are vocal.

“We have a duty to stand up to things the world will tell us. As Christians, we have a duty to stand up and define the things God is doing for us,” he said, “I believe we’re put in situations to test us. Not everyone will make it, but we don’t have to take the numbers we’re given.”

The revelation to begin this work with youth, came to him following a conversation with God.

“I remember sitting at home asking God how I can be better. I remember the Lord responded about taking church outside, to take it somewhere that will reach others,” he said. “We have to go to them.”

It was important to Nixon to be all-inclusive and to find like-minded people. That is when he reached out to Pastor Randy Jacoby.

“I met with him and he just gets it,” he shared.

The two have been working with other pastors in the area to offer Charlton a chance to come together to support the local youth and to offer prayers.

“The church is the leader in any community. If we want more we have to do more and Mr. Jacoby has been great in offering resources,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic became the source which spurred the men into action.

“The pandemic has been serious and people have died, but it’s been an eye-opening year,” he stated, “I’m proud of Folkston for coming together during these prayer meetings.”

The group will host an event every few months, falling on fifth Sunday weekends to continue the work of bringing Charlton together.

He said, “We want to see people together – that’s what gives us hope.”