Kim Legaux, district counseling and support services coordinator at EQA discusses the importance of community engagement at the New Orleans East Opportunity Center Community open house held at the Gaudet School building. Credit: Nigell Moses

A supportive services and after-school enrichment program called the New Orleans East Opportunity Center, geared to encourage youth through a variety of initiatives, is launching in the Gaudet School Building, 12000 Hayne Blvd. 

With seed money from a Reimagine Schools grant given by the Louisiana Department of Education, Educators for Quality Alternatives and The Youth Empowerment Project are stepping up to provide a community-based service.

Since Hurricane Katrina, areas like New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward have struggled in recovery when it comes to restoring housing and community spaces. Access to city resources is hard for those without transportation. It can take a 90-minute commute by public transportation to get to most jobs in the city. Other issues such as poverty and increased crime are blamed for high rates of disconnection in young adults ages 16 to 24. Leaders of the YEP and EQA programs hope that the new opportunity center will invite more people from the community. 

“We both serve a lot of young people already and families in New Orleans East”, said Jerome Jupiter, chief operations officer at YEP. “We’ve been going about it for a long time and want to bring our services to where our families are.”

The NET, an “alternative school” that is part of EQA Schools, was designed to help students who are struggling with the regular curriculum, students who are working to provide for their families and support those who are young parents. Through free services such as counseling, a community food pantry, and child care support service called the NEST, the program is dedicated to the educational success of high school and middle school students.

“I work in the NET child care. We take care of the students’ kids while they’re in school,” said Angel Cummings, The NET: Gentilly child care assistant. “The thing about the NEST is, we’re not just watching your kids, we’re teaching them at the same time; we’re learning your plan.”

Kina Lee, principal of the NET: East, admits the negative stigma toward alternative schools is holding the community back. She said that the NET is doing more work than neighbors in the community are aware of, and wants to “talk up” these generalized beliefs.

“We have more kids in high school across the city, who are not making it and are going to drop out, and then they’re gonna become the statistics in crime,” said Leila J. Eames, School Board District member for New Orleans East District 1. “But if we can get them in here and get them [the] social and emotional help that they need to get them on the right path,” Eames said.

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New Orleans native Nigell Moses graduated summa cum laude from Xavier University of Louisiana with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication. She is a published contributing writer, with stories in The...