NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — The walls of a future youth computer center in the Woodlawn neighborhood may now be scribbled with gang messages, but with a coat of paint and a positive influence, Joe and Dianne Good say they will use the center to keep area youth off the streets and in school.
The couple is converting two abandoned shotgun houses on Claiborne Street into the D&J Youth Group Resource Research Computer Center for their non-profit youth group. Dianne already has a vision for the computer center.
The first two rooms will be the "yellow room" and the "blue room" where computers for the youth to use for schoolwork will be.
The last room will be the "red room," and its purpose is close to Dianne's heart.
"This will be the music center," she said stepping into the room and pointing at the walls, which will be painted red and adorned with a piano mural. "Music is my heart."
They may not look like much now to passers-by, but Dianne said the houses have come a long way.
After the two shotgun houses were donated to the Historic Natchez Foundation, the foundation then donated the houses to D&J Youth Group.
"They were neighborhood eyesores and places where bad things could happen," said Mimi Miller, director of the Historic Natchez Foundation. "We took them, though, hoping there was a prayer of a chance that we would figure out something to do with them."
Miller called the Goods, knowing about their work with youth and asked if the couple could use the houses.
"When I first saw them, I asked Dianne, 'What are we going to do with these?'" Joe said. "looked at them, and I looked at them, and I just said 'Lord, help me.'"
The houses, Joe said, were covered in weeds and kudzu and were littered with beer cans and evidence of drug activity. Joe admits he was even a little uneasy about going inside the houses.
The foundation gave D&J Youth Group a $5,000 grant to get the renovation of the houses started.
"The money they gave us helped get everything cleaned up, but it went fast," Joe said.
The group also received help and from local contractors and St. Mark No. 2 Baptist Church in Kingston. Melvin Davis at Stine Lumber Co. has also been a big help, Joe said, and Davis presented the youth group with a $400 check recently.
General contractor Danny Smith, who the Goods' have dubbed "the window man," restored windows for the center.
The Goods chose to turn the houses into a computer center, Joe said, because children in their neighborhood are always dropping by to use the Goods' computer because the library is often closed when the children need to use a computer in the evenings.
"What I am going to say? No?" Joe said. "They have to do their schoolwork."
But now Joe and Dianne's computer has crashed, and the couple recently had to buy another one.
Natchez High School senior Diamond Nicholson does not have Internet at her house, and she said she will use the center to help push through her last year of school. Nicholson said she might even use the center's computers to check out her future college, Southern University in Baton Rouge.
Incoming Natchez High ninth-graders Miracle Posey, Jonnetta McCoy, Derraniqua Champ and Cathedral ninth-grader Raenetta Robertson said they are excited to see the center finished so they can use it for the upcoming school year.
"It will be good because if I need help with a subject, and a person that goes here is good at that subject, they can help me," Robertson said.
The Goods' 14-year-old grandson Regginald said he, too, is excited for the center and said his grandparents' work with the youth group makes him proud.
"They're sweet, caring people who want to make their community better," he said.
Reaching out to the youth of the neighborhood is the Goods' passion.
"If we keep these kids motivated, we can keep them away from drugs," he said. "Along the line you may lose two or three, but if someone doesn't reach out to them, they get lost by the wayside."
Joe said with the help of the Natchez Police Department, Adams County Sheriff's Office and the Neighborhood Watch program, Woodlawn has cleaned up the neighborhood a good bit.
Natchez Police Chief DannyWhite said he believes places like the D&J Youth Group computer center keep neighborhood kids away from drugs so they can focus on school.
"I think it's really great what Joe and Dianne do," White said.
Joe said he and Dianne get visits from young people who used to be in D&J Youth Group and have since made something of themselves.
"They say, 'Thank you for helping me get out of Natchez and find myself and helping me make something out of myself,'" Good said.
The Goods are focusing now on completing the house with the yellow, blue and red rooms, and Joe said another $5,000 should do it. He said it would take approximately $10,000 to finish the other house.