In the world of professional football, Dan Dudley found success bringing teams together to achieve a common goal. Dudley, who founded the Carolina Pirates in Durham, North Carolina, and the Cougars in Augusta, Georgia, wanted to do more to bring communities together to serve young people.
One morning while he was living in Augusta, Dudley woke up at 5 a.m., disturbed by news stories of children as young as 12 engaged in prostitution and criminal activity. He knew many lived in poverty with single mothers or parents who used drugs.
“They go to school and see what other kids have, and they’re going to bed hungry. It’s difficult for kids to function when they’re worried,” he says. “I thought about my own childhood and asked, ‘What’s the solution, what can we do?’ They need a safe haven.”
Dudley gathered support from local businesses and organizations to develop an after-school program called Creative Advancement Centers. When he moved to the Upstate 15 years ago, he brought the same concept to Greer, working with the public school system, parks and recreation department, and churches to create a program to enhance students’ abilities academically, intellectually, creatively, socially and physically. Operating out of Victor Park Recreational Center, the program serves Crestview Elementary, Woodland Elementary, Chandler Creek Elementary, Greer Middle and Greer High schools. The goal is to improve grade point averages and school retention rates.
“We help with homework and provide a nutritious meal. Parents can be sure their kids are in a safe environment,” Dudley says. “We also take field trips to places like Washington, D.C., and the slave markets in Charleston. They’re able to see history outside the classroom, so when they read about it, it’s exciting.”
Jydance Kerns, 13, has participated in the program since she was in kindergarten. Her great-aunt, Gwen Owens, credits Creative Advancement Center with helping her niece overcome struggles at school.
“The program has really helped. They know how to handle all kinds of situations,” Owens says.
Now a seventh grader, Kerns helps the younger children with snacks and activities. She says taking on the leadership role taught her to give new experiences a try. Caring staff members provide homework help and supervise active play.
“We have nice teachers,” she says. “If you need someone to talk to, you can trust them.”
Owens says she has had the opportunity to accompany the group on trips to Atlanta and Charleston.
“We go as a family. I think it’s important to go where they go, and learn what they learn; it’s awesome,” she says.
In 2013, Creative Advancement Center was among 14 nonprofits chosen for recognition from among 100 applicants from 58 countries by BMW Manufacturing Company in Munich, Germany.
In June, the Community Foundation of Greenville awarded $12,500 to Creative Advancement Centers to support their programming for young people. The organization was one of five minority-led nonprofits to receive grants in honor of those who have suffered from racists acts and institutions.
“Dan Dudley has run this academic enrichment center for many years following his retirement from a long corporate career,” says Bob Morris, CFG president. “He has been a well-respected and caring mentor to hundreds of students and a long standing partner of the city of Greer as a youth advocate.”
To volunteer or become a sponsor, visit https://www.cityofgreer.org/517/Creative-Advancement-Afterschool-Program.