Cassie Helms
Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

Cassie Helms is director of programs for the Anniston Community Education Foundation, which serves students in the Anniston, Oxford, Saks and Wellborn communities. On Friday, ACEF will host its sixth annual Youth-Family Summit promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.

Describe your career path.

My background spans teaching to youth ministry to church ministry. I began teaching middle schoolers in a private school. I then got my masters degree in education and continued teaching in inner-city high schools. I decided I wanted a degree in ministry, and through that I ended up in the nonprofit sector which led me down here to Anniston Community Education Foundation.

What is Anniston Community Education Foundation?

We are a 501c3 nonprofit with a focus on education in the community. We work to improve literacy and graduation rates, reduce dropout rates and build community involvement and collaboration between parents and other organizations in the community. We have college tours. We have programs where students can meet people in different careers and find out what is required to have a particular job. We give out scholarships and grants. We are restarting our Parents as Leaders program. We have a board of directors, two main staff members – our administrative assistant and myself – and our base of volunteers. Our youth coalition is a group of about 40 10th-12th graders who do volunteer work for us and out in the community.

What sort of volunteer projects does the youth coalition do?

Some of them have done the dental bags with Sarrell Dental. One group from Saks went to an elementary school and read Dr. Seuss books to the students for Read Across America week. Their volunteer projects are whatever they come up with; we are here as their resource.

What is STEM?

Science, technology, engineering and math. We want these kids to be excited about science and technology and engineering and math, especially at the first-sixth grade level because kids have not lost interest in those subjects yet. We want to reach them while it is still early, and hopefully help them carry that interest through high school and maybe they will pursue a career in one of those fields.

What is ACEF doing to promote STEM in Anniston?

We are hosting our sixth annual Youth-Family Summit this Friday at the Anniston City Meeting Center. This year we are planning to host 250-300 first-sixth grade children plus their families. Open registration has ended, but there are still a few spaces available, so if you would like your family to attend, please call the office to register. Registration is required because we provide T-shirts, lunch and school supplies.

What activities will you have at the Youth-Family Summit?

This year, they will be building race cars out of recycled materials. The McWane Center is coming in and putting on a really fun opening ceremony for them. We will have zumba during registration to keep them entertained. Sarrell Dental will do a trivia game. Calhoun Conservation will do nature rubbings. The programming for the parents will be offered by Sarrell Dental, Quality of Life Healthcare and Woodforest National Bank. The Anniston Housing Authority and Anniston City Schools are strong supporters each year.

How can the community help ACEF?

Financial donations are always welcome, as well as donations of time. We always have needs for items including school supplies. The youth coalition will be doing their coat drive in the fall, so we will be collecting coats then. We are working on developing a resource center for homework help. The students have mentioned they would like to have ACT prep books, college brochures and information about scholarships and careers.

Why is ACEF important?

Education, of course, is always important. We are supporting these kids to make sure that whether it is through college or something else, they have the opportunities they deserve and need.

Faith Dorn is a freelance writer in Anniston. Contact her at faith.h.dorn@gmail.com.