This Father’s Day weekend, Raymond “Shoe-do” Lewis honored his connection to his youngest child, Garon, with the launch of the Garon Paul Atkinson Lewis Foundation, a nonprofit focused on education of young people and their families in New Iberia.
The Iberia parish school board member said it was important for her son to have a living legacy. The 17-year-old was shot dead inside a vehicle near the intersection of Audrey and Rene Streets on August 16, 2019, just days after starting his senior year at New Iberia High School. Seven men were arrested on charges related to his death.
Lewis described his son as a kind, intelligent, funny, intelligent young man who has given and received respect from people of all walks of life. Garon planned to follow in his mother’s footsteps to become a nurse practitioner, Lewis said, and father and son were discussing plans for the 17-year-old to attend Nicholls State University in Thibodaux.
Launching the foundation meant facing head-on in memory of her son – talking with friends, neighbors and community members about his life and how best to reflect Garon in the foundation’s mission.
“You think you know your kids,” Lewis said, but the school board member said he continues to learn more about his deceased son as elderly neighbors have told stories about Garon’s recordings and his visits to a local nursing home. , acts of kindness that Lewis and his wife, Roxy, were unaware the 17-year-old had undertaken.
Garon Lewis had a great day at school.
“I have my days as a father. My wife has her days, ”Lewis said. “As a father, I sold these tickets [for the foundation launch events], talk to people, and some days I get back in my car and cry.
Longtime family friend Tyra McWhorter helps the family turn their pain and grief into action for the community. McWhorter, 49, said she had known Lewis and his family from childhood and said she swore at Garon’s funeral that she would support them however she could and when she could. The idea of the GPAL Foundation was born from this desire to help.
McWhorter and her husband, Lee, have experience supporting at-risk youth; the duo led the nonprofit tutoring and mentoring youth development group in the city from 2003 to around 2017, when they moved to Houston to care for Lee McWhorter’s ailing mother.
McWhorter said her heart has been invested in serving youth since witnessing the impacts of educational disparities and support gaps in substitute teaching, and she is excited to use that passion to serve. the Lewis family.
She said a photo the family found of Garon when he was around 11 in a t-shirt that said “Just a Kid from New Iberia” sums up the spirit of the foundation.
“That’s all he was – just a kid from New Iberia who didn’t even have the chance to graduate. We want to make sure that other New Iberia kids have a chance to graduate and live successful lives, ”said McWhorter.
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The GPAL Foundation, in partnership with the relaunched McWhorters youth development group, will run several programs: Teens Excited About Learning (TEAL), a tutoring and mentoring program for youth; the Fearless Fathers support group to provide advice and encouragement to parents; It’s a rap, a youth-led program where teens discuss issues in their daily lives by analyzing rap lyrics; and the HBCU experience, where students will be exposed to college opportunities at historically black colleges and universities.
McWhorter said they plan to launch their programs in August, with a four-day-a-week schedule for after-school tutoring and mentoring sessions, weekly meetings for the It’s a Rap teen group and a group. to be determined program for the Intrepid Fathers.
“The programs we have are not textbook programs, they are individualized so that each child follows their own program. I cannot do for one child what I will do for another because each child is different. We want to make sure that if we’re going to go out there and help them and guide them, we want to make sure that we give them the right tools to be who they want to be, ”she said.
An important initiative for nonprofits will be a youth court program, Me180 Teen Court, in partnership with Judge Trey Haik and the New Iberia City Court.
The youth court program will divert minors who have committed minor offenses, such as truancy, school brawls or shoplifting, from the court system to the juvenile court, where they will be tried. by a peer jury who will award sentences such as community service. hours or a personal development program, McWhorter said.
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Haik said he was delighted to reintroduce the program to the city. Another organization was operating a youth court when Haik first took office in 2015, but grant funding was lost. The municipal court judge said he saw the effectiveness of the program; it allows minors to invest in their behavior and the behavior of their peers and allows them to take the reins in a meaningful way.
“The goal is to keep them away from the justice system. We tend to focus a lot on adult crime and violent adult crime, but if we’re really going to get to the root of the crime problem, we really need to deal with the younger ones because they start first. to think outside the box and intervene before it moves on. This is how you impact crime, really – on the front end, not the back end, ”he said.
With program plans in place, the foundation is strengthening its board of directors and leadership. McWhorter will serve as executive director, with his 22-year-old daughter Tytiana McWhorter serving as vice president, and Lewis will serve as president and founder, in a non-voting position, they said.
The foundation will not have paid positions at this time; the salary budget will be used to pay the teens serving as tutors and peer mentors or counselors, McWhorter said.
The McWhorter and Lewis families have provided seed money to run the foundation and are also seeking donations, grant opportunities and sponsors to support children in the programs, McWhorter said. For starters, the weekly tutoring and mentoring sessions will cost $ 25 per week to help cover some costs.
It’s been a year and a half of hard work to put the foundation in place, but it’s exciting to launch their vision for Garon’s legacy, they said.
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“I would never put my name on anything, especially using the name of my deceased son, unless my wife and I were totally comfortable,” Lewis said.
As the foundation takes off, Lewis and his family are still awaiting trial of their son’s accused killers. Progress has been delayed due to legal restrictions associated with the coronavirus pandemic, but now that precautions are reduced, they are hoping for progress, he said.
Seven men – Terrance Adkins, Trevonce Bernard, Tarrell Hamilton, Bryson Johnlouis, Ja’Bryson Johnlouis, Travis Layne, Jr. and Kenray Ledet – have been charged in this case.
“I’m going to live long enough to see all seven of them face the justice system. The Lord will not take me out of here until justice is served in my son’s case, ”Lewis said.