A local pastor is changing the lives of young people who live in an apartment complex in Southwest Lawton that is plagued by violence. Pastor Michael Cross started the "Every Life Matters" program at the Sanders Heights Apartments back in January. It offers children living in the complex classes focused on life skills character building, music lessons and while providing them a nutritious meal. Cross said he wants to put these children on a path to success and put an end to the vicious cycle of violence.
Every other Saturday, the program takes children from the ages of four to 17, and teaches them about forgiveness, honesty, trustworthiness and obedience. Pastor Cross said he got the idea for the program after learning about a similar program in California.
The children eagerly learn about important life skills in three classrooms in one of the apartments. Cross said their enthusiasm is proof that this program can work. He said part of the mission of the program is to positively influence the minds of Sanders Heights' youngest residents.
"I believe that once you change or influence a person's mind, they can make better decisions. They can pick themselves up and do better for themselves. That's my goal to watch these children age up in my program and see the results of the impact of our teaching," said Cross.
Many of the children said they can't wait to attend the classes and were excited to talk about their favorite part of the program. 11-year-old Blessen Blackwell said she's excited to be a part of a youth orchestra Pastor Cross is putting together.
"Learn how to play the piano because I never knew how to. It makes me even prouder of myself," said Blackwell.
Her 9-year-old brother Keeon is equally excited about the life skills he said he's learned.
"Pastor Cross teaching about the bible and teaching the boys not to be rude and disrespectful. Because if you're rude and disrespectful to other adults you can probably get in trouble," he said.
The non-profit program relies solely on donations and volunteers. Terrell Fuller manages the program's finances and says the donations are vital to the success of the program.
"We have to feed the kids too, we buy supplies, we've been raising money for a computer and soccer gear. A lot of the instruments that we have are based of off donations too," said Fuller.
Cross said he believes one of the best ways to make a difference in a community struggling to overcome violence is to teach its youngest residents a different way to survive.
"There'll be less violence, less domestic violence, less police cars with teens. We're trying to impact the children before they reach that age. If we can change their minds now, bend that tree while it's young, there will not be a whole lot of trouble in the community," said Cross.
He admits that the program, which now has about 45 children who attend, is not without its challenges. Cross said the hardest part is getting some of the parents motivated even though it's free to attend. He said it's going to take the support of the entire community to keep this program going.