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Kershaw County JRT is S.C. Site of the Year

Posted: November 2, 2017 4:50 p.m.
Updated: November 3, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

In her office/classroom at the Jackson Teen Center in Camden (JTC), Kershaw County Job Readiness Training (JRT) Director Roberta Langley-Mayes shows off the 2017 S.C. JRT Site of the Year Award trophy and certificate she received during an Oct. 26 S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) event in Columbia. DJJ oversees the statewide JRT program. Langley-Mayes also coaches the Kershaw County Diamonds Step Team and is coordinating Saturday night’s Battle for the Cup step event at Camden High School with her husband, JTC Executive Director Brian Mayes.

Ten years ago, Roberta Langley-Mayes and her husband, Brian Mayes, began putting on step shows in Camden as part of their outreach ministry to help young people. Langley-Mayes still coaches the current incarnation of the local step team, the Kershaw County Diamonds. Together, through the step program and other aspects of their ministry, they did their best to lead the community to be “a better gang than the gangs,” after the gang-related shooting death of a Camden High School student.

During more recent years, Langley-Mayes worked with the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Communities in Schools program, becoming a classroom instructor of DJJ’s Juveniles Experiencing Excellence Program, or JEEP. By 2014, after JEEP became Job Readiness Training (JRT), Langley-Mayes became the director of its Kershaw County program.

At the time, she maintained her office inside of Camden High School, but later moved herself and the JRT program to the Jackson Teen Center (JTC), operated by the Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands, where Brian is executive director.

During a DJJ event in Columbia on Oct. 26, the agency rewarded her efforts by naming Kershaw County as the JRT Site of the Year, presenting Langley-Mayes with a trophy and certificate. DJJ also handed out certificates celebrating the award to the JTC and the Kershaw County School District.

“I didn’t believe it,” Langley-Mayes said about hearing she had won the awards. “I don’t like being in front of the camera; it’s about the kids, not me. Even when they were presenting them to me, I was like, ‘We’ll see.’”

The honor is real, though, and her husband said it’s a well deserved one.

“I think they looked at the program overall and then what she does after hours,” Brian Mayes said. “All of the kids that have gone through the program are either in college or in the military.”

He was referring as much to the step program as JRT. 

“Every stepper went through JRT, and all but one of them has gone on to college, with the other one going straight into the work force,” Brian Mayes said.

JRT works by training young people on how to get jobs and then finding them internships with businesses in the community. There’s no cost to the participating businesses because DJJ pays for the internships. Some of the young people have worked out so well, employers are looking to keep them beyond JRT.

“Lisa Spruill at A New Kinda Me Salon -- we sent a student, Janya Robinson, and she’s doing so well that Lisa’s trying to find the money to keep Janya on,” Langley-Mayes said.

Some JRT students have even come back to the JTC.

“Nehia Greene has been through JRT twice and now she works for us here,” Langley-Mayes said, “and her sister, Haveonna, went to Francis Marion and will be working for the Boys & Girls Club of the Pee Dee.”

At another job site, an employer was so impressed with JRT intern Davia Stuckey that after just one week, they decided to hire her as an actual employee.

These are the success stories Langley-Mayes said are behind the Site of the Year Award.

“Most of the graduates have jobs. They’re going to college. Some of them are coming back here to help. The kids are great; they’re the best kids in the county. Definitely, they are making the program what it is.”

Brian Mayes said he and his wife have seen kids come into the JTC, some of them getting into the JRT program, and by doing so, leaving gangs.

“We want this to be the place they want to be, not hanging out on the block,” he said. “Having JRT at the JTC fits; it’s the next step before going into the workforce.”

Langley-Mayes said winning the 2017 Site of the Year Award just makes her want to have more success stories so Kershaw County can be No. 1 again next year.

“I’ll try to find new things, but also keep doing the things we’re already doing and work with them after they graduate to be even more effective,” she said, adding that kids who have been through the program do come back to Camden, even if it’s just to visit. “From my experience, they do come back, even if it’s just to volunteer here or at the step shows. Some back and get jobs; others leave for a couple of years and come back.”

Langley-Mayes’ most immediate “next thing” is Saturday night’s “Battle for the Cup” step competition in the Camden High School (CHS) gymnasium. The doors open at 5 p.m. and the show starts at 6 p.m. Langley-Mayes said tickets are still just $5 per person, as they have been for years.

When she and her husband first started the step shows, they were held at the old Camden Middle School’s Phelps Auditorium. They later moved to Rhame Arena, but for the last few years have been able to use CHS’ gym.

This is the step show’s 10th anniversary.

“We tried to do a reunion, but everyone’s too far away. Most are coming back, but not necessarily to perform,” Langley-Mayes said.

Traditionally, when teams host a competition, they perform but do not compete so as not to take home court advantage. This year, the Kershaw County Diamonds will not even perform, Langley-Mayes said. However, former local stepper Jalen Loney will provide some entertainment, as he has during past shows.

Meanwhile, the card for Saturday night’s competition includes two teams from Columbia, the Royal Diamonds and the Ladies & Gentlemen of Distinction; two groups from Rocky Mount, N.C., Envyus and Hype Phase I & II; Dyme Divas of Pageland; and Phi Smoove of Sumter. Aria Mount, a praise dancer and mime, will also perform.

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