HOBSON CITY — Tamar Towns had to take a moment to hold back tears before she addressed 13 graduates of the Dannon Project’s Reentry Demonstration Program, gathered at a gym here Friday.
“When I say I truly love you guys, and I truly believe in you guys, I do,” she said.
The Dannon Project is a nonprofit organization that helps people convicted of crimes transition into jobs and productive lives. Birmingham TV news anchor Jeh Jeh Pruitt and his wife, Kerri, co-founded The Dannon Project in 1999, three years after his teenage brother was accidentally shot and killed in Hobson City by a man who’d recently been released after serving a sentence for a nonviolent drug crime.
The group’s Reentry Demonstration Program takes 18- to 24-year-olds who are in some phase of the justice system, and it provides them with courses and support to get jobs. Towns, program coordinator for the Dannon Project, said students in the reentry program take classes in money management and earn certifications for skills like customer service or forklift operation. And the Dannon Project’s staff make sure students who haven’t graduated high school get GEDs.
Friday’s graduating class represented the first set of the program, which is funded through a two-year $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.
According to census data, about 13 percent of Calhoun County residents age 18 to 24 don’t have a high school degree, which is similar to the national rate.
Speakers at Friday’s ceremony included local Dannon Project staff, local pastors and students of the program.
“I've accomplished more in this year than I have in seven years,” graduate Brandy Wilson said to the crowd.
She said she knew the staff at the Dannon Project would continue to support her as she continues on her journey.
At the lectern, graduate Christopher Fantroy said the work done by the Dannon Project is invaluable to the community.
“This is something we need,” he said.
Kerri Pruitt also attended the ceremony, telling the students, “It doesn't stop today; you've got to keep on going.”