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Local restaurant owner aims to help Iowa City youth

BY HOLLY HINES | DECEMBER 18, 2009 7:30 AM

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Standing outside his Iowa City restaurant with a broad smile, Jeff Currie rewarded City High sophomore Don Williams for getting good grades just as he had promised.

After posing for pictures on Thursday, Currie asked Williams, whose family stood nearby, if he planned to earn more As next term. Williams smiled, nodded, and accepted his reward check of $75.

The small ceremony is a result of a deal Currie, the owner of Lou Henri’s, 630 Iowa Ave., struck with four students involved in the Children of Promise last summer. The Johnson County initiative provides mentors to youth ages 12 to 17 who have parents in correctional services.

He offered to give the students $25 for each A they earned on their report cards. Williams was the only one to complete the task. Two students moved away before completing the fall trimester and another was focused on other concerns, said Angie Blanchard-Manning, the program director for Children of Promise.

Before entering the Children of Promise program, Williams said he wasn’t motivated to focus on school and was involved in “terrible things,” including fighting and stealing. He said family support, as well as experience in correctional programs, motivated him to improve.

Williams earned three As this trimester in algebra, English, and history.

“I just did the work,” he said, and it wasn’t hard when he decided to focus.

Williams’ mother, Mary Gunartt, said she was excited and happy to see her son accept the reward.

He’s been attending classes more regularly than before, she said, and she’s proud to see how much his schoolwork has improved.

“I know in my heart that he’s doing well in school,” she said. “Better than last year.”

Blanchard-Manning said Williams has “pulled a 180.”

She said she’s frustrated with the generalities people have made about community youth, especially during the discussion leading up to a curfew for Iowa City juveniles.

The Iowa City City Council voted on Monday to adopt the youth curfew, which was first addressed after increased violence among juveniles on the Southeast Side this past summer.

Blachard-Manning said while some people think added law enforcement is the key to molding outstanding children, some youths, such as Williams, have already achieved this.

“That word ‘outstanding’ is written all over him,” she said.

Currie said he hopes to help students avoid violence and destructive behavior by encouraging them to do excellent school work.

These kids may be easily distracted, he said, and their motivation can improve when others show they care.

“They just want to know someone has their back,” he said.

He plans to continue offering the incentive money next year to any student interested, he said, particularly those who are underprivileged.

He hopes friends in the community will join him in the future so the program can expand, he said.

Williams said he plans to “invest” in something his family will enjoy, like a trip, with his reward.
He said he intends to try for the reward again next trimester.

Williams said he also plans to try out for the City High basketball team, and he might be interested in basketball scholarships for college in the future.

From his table in Lou Henri’s he joked, saying he hopes college basketball scouts will see him play and send him “straight to the NBA.”


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