By Ukee Washington
CAMDEN, N.J., (CBS) — Tawanda Jones of Camden says no child should be written off. She says they all have the power to be sophisticated and distinguished citizens.
For these young people, afternoons are about dance, drums, and determination. It’s all led by Tawanda Jones.
“Kids love music,” Jones said. “They love to dance. They love to step.”
Tawanda has been leading drill teams since high school. Now, 27 years later, she has 4,000 drill team graduates. Tawanda wants every child to have an alternative to the streets of Camden.
“It’s just the facade to bring these young people in. Then once we have them hooked, it’s all about educating them,” she said.
That’s why every afternoon before practice, there’s a homework table before the children step up. This year there are more than 300 children signed up. The girls’ team is Camden Sophisticated Sisters; the boys are Distinguished Brothers CSS. They perform all over, including at this year’s Miss America pageant.
No matter what their financial situation, children can join. Fundraising covers their uniforms and other costs.
Jennifer Moss was a member as a girl. Now her five-year-old daughter Allonna is there too.
“We learned to love one another, treat people with respect,” said Moss.
Alisha Furman says she has seen eight-year-old Ariyona blossom.
“She’s coming out of her little shell,” Furman said. “She’s talks more and she’s more outspoken, and I attribute that to the group.”
Tawanda is now in the top 10 of the CNN Heroes competition and won a $50,000 prize. Now she’s up for the top prize, $250,000. She hopes to use it to get their own rehearsal space.
“Win or lose, it’s just been a blessing. I’ve just been enjoying the ride!” Tawanda said.
CNN Heroes 2013 voting site: http://heroes.cnn.com