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Program at Grace United Methodist Church keeping Lynn kids safe, happy

LYNN – It is 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. Union Street is jammed with students walking home from school and commuters ditching work a few hours early in anticipation of the weekend.The doors of the Grace United Methodist Church are wide open. From his office just inside the church, Marshall Middle School teacher Arthur Acres can hear the kids yelling and the horns honking.This will be his home away from home for the remainder of the school year.Acres is the founder and director of the College Application Education Inc. (CAEP), a not-for-profit community organization based out of the church that provides guidance, tutoring and a safe community environment for middle and high school-aged students in the city.What began as a program to help students prepare and apply for college has ballooned into a community group that serves as so much more.A giant smile spreads across Acres’ face as he describes the deep-sea fishing adventures and bowling trips that took place during his summer session, stopping short to add that members always have to finish their schoolwork before the fun can begin.As volunteers come in and out of his office, setting up for the first day of tutoring, which is scheduled to begin on the following Monday, Acres leans back in his chair and describes how his organization works to fill the needs that so many teens in the city have.”We are humbly and modestly trying to make a difference in young peoples lives,” he said. “Our main goals are to increase the retention rate and increase the employment rate among students in the city. It is a basic premise – provide a safe environment where we can make sure that these kids are successful.”Acres says the program, which he founded in 2004, began to move past tutoring when he realized that most of the students he was helping didn’t have much to do, and lacked structure outside of school.”We realized that kids in the city just didn’t have anywhere to go, because once you reach 14 or 15 you kind of age out,” he said. “Kids don’t have as much, they are too old for Little League and those types of things and they are just hanging out on the streets. So we started to branch beyond our original mission.”The proud director pointed out photos of some of the community activities, such as talent and fashion shows, along with educational activities such as holding their own preliminary round of the Scripps Spelling Bee. He says that by adding the activities that get students excited, he can keep their attention on the tutoring and educational aspect of the program as well.In addition to the tutoring in classes they have now, the organization helps students with the skills needed to find a job after school, and does its best to point them in the right direction whatever their goals may be.The organization’s mission is to “set up an institutional mechanism and a community structure, whereby parents and students of all cultures can receive direct college preparation.”Acres said he focused this year on adding math and reading tutors, some college-aged volunteers, others his colleagues at Marshall, to keep the program moving in the age of MCAS testing.”The real blessing is turning these kids around, that’s why we are here,” said Joanne Maglio, who Acres recruited from Marshall to help tutor students in reading. “You can’t turn everybody around but you have to do what you can to try. Overall, it has created a great bond between the Marshall students that come here, because the education and the relationships continue.”Walking around the main room of the church, which he shares with other area organizations, Acres says he has the same struggles as any non-profit, that is mainly finding funding for what he is trying to do. He has received donations from several area businesses, including Wal-Mart, the Essex County Foundation, The Unitarian United Church of Greater Lynn, Gillette, Target and the McArthur Family Foundation.He does not charge a fee for students to join, he simply asks that fam

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