Roxeann Cobb is Committed to Support Youth Despite Cut in Funding Promised by City Council in 2022.

Published on 28 February 2024 at 16:01

Roxeann Cobb has a passion for helping youth in Washington, Georgia. In 2019 she started the Four E Youth Organization, a 501c3 non-profit. She is the first African American woman in Wilkes County to start a non-profit organization. The four E’s stand for Educate, Empower, Expose and Encourage. She told me she saw a need in the community to help children and parents by providing things that are quite basic and often taken for granted by others but are lacking for many of the children in Washington-Wilkes. She said she saw that many of the children in our community, particularly African American children, did not have exposure to experiences that would broaden their ideas of the world around them and this limited their thoughts on who they could become and what was available to them. Cobb won Wilkes County Chamber of Commerce Civic Organization of the year and volunteer of the year in 2020.

 

“A lot of these kids have parents who have to work and aren’t home when school is out” Cobb said. She recognized this can lead to children being exposed to things that can be harmful to them emotionally and even physically. It can lead them down a path that doesn’t help them realize their full potential. Cobb took action and started mentoring and providing support to kids in her home initially. She knew the parents couldn’t afford to pay for what she was offering but her desire to help was the driving force. She spent her own money to purchase snacks, supplies for activities and gas to take the kids on nearby trips. “It is so important because if these kids don’t see anything out in the world, how can they dream and hope for what they can be?” She said parents help when they can, with things like buying juice boxes, snacks or lunches when she takes the kids on field trips but for most parents, paying for the basic necessities at home is challenging enough.  “Parents want their kids to not be left alone and to see things outside of Washington” she said. She told me most of the parents work one or more jobs so kids end up being home alone and older kids in a family, take care of their younger siblings. “I have whole families in the program” she said.

 

Cobb organized a roundtable last week attended by congressman Rick Allen and local community stake holders for a conversation on youth programs and gang violence prevention strategies. She contacted me to attend and report on the event. Panelists and city/county officials in attendance were new Wilkes County School superintendent Michelle Smith, educator Alicia Finnell, housing authority executive director Zena Zahran, city council members Nathaniel Cullars Sr., Larry Hill, Newton Gunter, Washington mayor Bruce Bailey, Wilkes County sheriff Mark Moore as well as Tyreako Bailey who has attended Four E and Amy Potter who has volunteered for the organization. The conversation involved universal recognition and support for the need to put resources and attention into programs that support youth. Tyreako Bailey spoke about the impact Cobb and the Four E program have had on his life and how he will be making a career in early childhood education when he graduates from Washington Wilkes High School this year. Mayor Bruce Bailey said he places high importance on programs for youth in Washington and thanked Cobb for what she is doing and has done in the community. He pledged his support to assist her in her efforts.

 

I met with Cobb to learn more about her and why she started Four E.  I had heard about the organization but wanted to hear her story and what drives her to help the youth in Washington. Some of what she shared was concerning regarding the lack of resources and the impact on the children. She had mentioned that the children meet in a bus so I asked her about that. She told me that in 2020, the city had agreed to let her rent the Reese Booker community building for $1 per year but utilities had to be paid by her. The children were only in the building during the week and for only four hours a day. Monday-Thursday. On Fridays, they went on field trips.  She said there was no hot water in the building and the utility bills were around $300. The city installed a hot water heater and the bills skyrocketed to around $1000 per month.  She thought something must be wrong since she and the children were only in the building four hours a day, not having lights on all that time and certainly not using hot water. She talked to the city about why the bills were so high and if there was anything that could be done to lower them but was told the charges and usage were accurate. The bills continued to be between $600 and more than $1000 per month. She got donations to help with some of the bills.  In May 2022, the utilities to the building were disconnected for non-payment. She made a post about the disconnection on Facebook where she admitted, she was upset.  She said Jerry deBin contacted her and requested she make a public apology about the post and remove the post. She did make the apology but feels her frustration and disappointment was justified. “I just want better for these kids” she said.

 

She told me that she knew there was no way she could pay the ongoing utility bills in addition to funding the day-to-day operations of the program herself so she moved everything out of the building and let the city know she would no longer be using it for Four E because she couldn’t afford the utility bills. She said losing a brick and mortar building really had an impact on the kids. She said she had parents and a few volunteers help her move what they could to a storage facility that someone generously pays for to this day. They also had to give a lot of things away. Including books and furniture.  She had a partnership with Golden Harvest, providing food for the children but without a physical location, that has also been lost.

 

She said that last utility bill for the Reese Booker building was added to her personal utility bill and she was told if she did not pay it, the utilities at her home would be disconnected so she paid the bill.  Disconnecting utilities at a private residence for a utility bill owed on another property entirely, is not stated as a procedure in the city utility policy. Disconnection for non-payment on a residence or business is, but not transferring a balance from one property to another and imposing disconnection on a property that doesn’t have a past due amount. Cobb showed me the utility record with the transfer of the balance from Reese Booker to her personal utility bill.

 

In April 2022, Cobb went to the Washington city council meeting and asked for money to help pay for a trip to take the kids to the blue ridge mountains. The council voted 4-2, to not only pay for the trip but to give $30,000 to Four E.  Cobb was elated as were the parents and youth. She had several trips planned that year including to Atlanta and the High Museum and Coca Cola Museum, Ark Encounter in Kentucky, Fort Valley and Clarksville Tech. She was asked to create detailed cost breakdowns for each trip, which she did. The budgets were detailed and included food, gas, tickets for museums, bus driver pay and $10/hour for two staff members and $15/hour for Cobb as the primary supervisor and organizer of the trips.

 

In May 2022, less than a month after the city council voted to provide $30,000 to Cobb’s youth organization, city administrator, Jerry deBin sent Cobb an email telling her “It is consensus of the council that we would not be adding more trips at this late stage. The city commits to pay $15,000 in travel expenses as outlined in the agreement. Consensus is that the council will not consider a proposal for adding more trips at this point.” He asked her if she could come to his office to sign a contract that was attached. You can see the unsigned version of the contract below this article.

 

I cannot find any record of the city council taking any vote to cut Cobb’s funding or of the stipulations in the contract. I have contacted the councilmen as well as mayor Bruce Bailey about the contract and the cut in funding. It is a violation of the law for city council to meet without making the public aware of any meetings where a vote is taken or four or more members are present.  The minutes for the May 2022 city council meeting make no mention of a vote or discussion regarding the Four E Youth program, Cobb or the funding. I also contacted Jerry deBin and asked him to clarify what evidence he has of the city council coming to a consensus to cut the funding. I have not yet heard back from any of them but will post an update when/if I do.

 

Cobb said deBin also told her there would be no compensation for her or staff. She said he told her Four E was her dream and passion so she didn’t need to be paid.

 

The contract deBin presented contained many stipulations Cobb had to comply with in order to even get the funding that had been cut in half and now only included funding for a six-week summer program. These stipulations included:

 

Workers compensation insurance

Commercial liability insurance

Excess liability umbrella insurance

Automobile carrier insurance- $1 million combined single limit

 

Funds must be for the sole use of travel expenses and strictly conform to the budget approved by the city administrator.

 

Ensure all staff, employees and volunteers have a criminal background check.

 

Maintain enrollment of a minimum of 20 camp participants who are Washington-Wilkes residents.

 

Maintain a daily roster of all active participants of the camp including name, date of birth, address and emergency contact which was to be provided to the city.

 

Cobb said she signed the contract because she wanted the kids to at least have the trips. She said she told councilman Larry Hill about the cut in funding and he told her he “couldn’t get the votes” to keep the funding that was originally voted on.

 

The contract stated an initial payment of $1,734.75 would be payable on May 20, 2022, for the Blue Ridge trip if Cobb completed all the stipulated actions such as getting insurance policies, background checks etc. Cobb said she did this and the initial payment was made and they took the trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains. She said she never received any additional funds from the city.

 

The contract stated the remaining funds would be disbursed in 7 payments but would be provided within 5 working days from the conclusion of each of the trips Cobb had planned. This would mean Cobb would have to pay for the trips prior and submit receipts to be reimbursed. Since she was funding everything on her own and had the added expense of insurance, background checks and other stipulations of the contract, she did not have personal funds to cover the trips prior to them occurring.

 

I spoke to several parents who have children in Four E who wanted to share their experience.

 

Diundra Norman has had children in the program and said about Cobb “I love what she’s doing.” She said her daughter is still attending Four E and has been in the program for a few years. She said there are so many activities such as etiquette classes, community service projects such as trash pickup and attending plays. She said Cobb has tutors to help the kids with homework afterschool and sometimes they attend church services and activities. Norman said she has volunteered to help Cobb with activities through the years while her children have been in the program.

 

Jaquana Moore has four children ages 11-15 in the Four E Youth program and said as a single mom, Cobb is the only support she and her children have. She said they are taught about work ethic, violence prevention and said, “My kids love to be with her, she is family.” She said she moved to Washington five years ago and feels like there is little support for families like hers. She said, “I was so blessed to meet her (Cobb).”  She remembered when the city council voted to provide Cobb with the $30,000 and said she was very disappointed when the money was not received and that her kids were “heartbroken” when they couldn’t go on the trips Cobb had planned.

 

Natasha Graves has a daughter who has been in the program for a few years. She said she loves the program because her daughter is exposed to things that she, as a busy mom, doesn’t always have time to take her to experience. She said her daughter learns a lot being in the program as well because of the educational opportunities Cobb provides.

 

Veronica Moore’s grandsons attend the program and she said, “they enjoy it very much and love Miss Roxeanne.” She said Cobb is making a big difference in kids lives. She said her grandson was in attendance at the city council meeting in April 2022 where it was voted Cobb would receive $30,000. She said her grandsons were disappointed Cobb ultimately didn’t get the funds. “It really would have helped the kids” she said.

 

Cobb continues to keep the program going.  Jontue “FooFoo” Cofer drives the children and helps Cobb pay for food, gas and other expenses when they take the kids on local outings. She said she has received $500 from the Washington Rotary Club in the past.  She also received a grant from Rayle EMC for just under $5000. She used those funds to purchase computers for the kids to use. Cobb said she has at least 20 children who want to participate in the program but is unable to admit them until she can hire an additional staff member and has an actual building to meet in.

 

If you’d like to make a donation to Four E Youth, you can do so at 4eyouth.org.

 

Written by Michelle Chaffee


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Comments

April Puccetti
2 months ago

How are city funds used?
Does the city publish how city funds are used as do other cities?
Is there an annual audit of city bookkeeping?
Is that audit provided to the public?

Kimberly Faye Cork
2 months ago

Thank you for this informative and thought provoking article. History teaches that when you control the place, you control the people. How very sad to see the children of Washington oppressed by city leadership that does not value the minds of those who will one day become leaders. I have met Roxanne Cobb and applaud her passion and tenacity. If no one was ever paid for pursuing their passion, we’d have no economy. Pursuing passion is what drives every entrepreneur. I am happy to contribute to the Four E program and also offer the use of the Market On Depot during non business hours if that would benefit this worthy cause.