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Meet Tabitha Lewis-Coverson of Communities In Schools of Georgia

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tabitha Lewis-Coverson.

Tabitha, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
For many years after graduating from LaGrange College, I was trying to decide what could I do that would not just be a job but a career. I worked as an engineer, in banking, juvenile justice and with the State of Georgia in many roles, but never felt like any of those fit. I went back to school at Troy University to earn my Masters of Public Administration and thought that would catapult me into my dream career. Around the same time, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and when I could have given up, I decided to work harder. The journey and the uncertainty made me reevaluate many of the things that I thought were important. My family, especially my mom, my husband and my two daughters, were my cheerleaders and I pushed beyond my fear and I finished my MPA program with a 4.0. I took a job with the Department of Behavioral Health in Atlanta, despite my doctor trying to convince me that I would probably need to look into applying for disability, that was not and still is not an option for me. While at DBHDD, I learned that Communities In Schools of Georgia was in need of an Executive Director in the Troup County area and I immediately applied.

I was questioned about my decision to leave my secure state job for the uncertainty of the non-profit world. It wasn’t a decision I made without a great deal of thought and prayer as I was a year and a half from being vested with the state. I actually interviewed for the job and was called and informed I had not been selected. I still held on the fact that it was going to be my job. I had already talked to God, they might not have known, but I did. A few weeks later, I was offered a job with another state agency and the same day, a board member from CIS contacted me for another interview. This time I had to create a presentation to show how I would do things differently to make the program in Troup County a success. Her exact words were “you need to wow us,” and that is exactly what I did. The fact that so many of our youth were falling through the cracks because of issues with grades, behavior, poverty, family crisis and not having their basic needs met, I knew I had to show them why I was so passionate about taking on this role. When I was in college, I tutored and worked in the Communities in Schools after school program at an alternative school. I met some really great kids who just needed someone to “see” them beyond just being a name on a referral.

During high school and college, my mom, now the CEO of Communities In Schools of Georgia, was the Executive Director, so I knew CIS, I had grown up with it and I knew what the organization had done and could continue to do for our youth with the right leadership. Here I was, 14 years and many directors later, the program had gone through some challenges, and I was determined to get the program in Troup County back on track so that our youth would continue to have access to the valuable and necessary relationships that are developed through Communities In Schools. On many occasions, I have worked, from a hospital bed due to MS complications, but that’s just how much I believe in the work that we are doing. I refuse to let my battle with MS stop me and thanks to some great physicians and amazing people in my corner. I’ve been winning.

Most of my time working for the state was with Vocational Rehabilitation and I was very familiar with the services and it had come to a point that I had to make the difficult decision to ask for help. Fortunately, I made some solid connections, and I picked up the phone and became a recipient of their services. I have everything I need, from special software and computers both at my office and at home, so that I can keep working. When I look back on that day, I have to laugh, because it was the very advice I give others, “never be afraid or too proud to ask for help.” I truly believe that if I was working anywhere else, I would have just walked away, but what we do is too important.

CIS is a family, we have our ups and downs, but we work through it and laugh about it later. No matter what, it’s about the kids and we make sure they know they are supported and most importantly loved. I believe that we are a team and I don’t expect them to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. There is a lot of love and mutual respect among us and it shows in our work and in our reputation in the community.

In November of 2012, I finally found my fit and despite the early hardships and personnel health struggles, I have no regrets. The team of people I have around me locally and at the state level has made Communities In Schools of Georgia in Troup County a success, not just for us professionally, but for the youth and families who depend on us for the tools, encouragement and support so they can succeed. Together Communities In Schools of Georgia in Troup County, Communities In Schools of Georgia and Communities in Schools across the nation continues to adhere to our mission to “surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and to achieve in life.”

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
When I first took this position, the organization in Troup county was about to lose all its local funding and would more than likely cease operation. There were many burned bridges that had to be repaired and confidence in our community and school system had to be restored. Finding the right team and giving them the responsibility and trust to make the tough decisions and be independent. My current team is amazing, but it took some time and changes to get there.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Communities In Schools of Georgia Story. Tell us more about your work.
We are a non-profit youth-serving organization working with at-risk youth to help them overcome barriers that would/could essentially prevent them from graduating. Our main focus is to build lasting relationships with the students we serve and help foster relationships with the students and people from our community. One of our founders stated that programs don’t change kids, relationships do, so we begin with a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. We have a strong mentoring program and unlike other programs, we are in the schools with the kids. If a student has a need, they have access at that moment. We also work with the families. It is hard for a child to succeed if there is lack at home, whether it is food, clothing, hygiene items, physical or mental health needs or social and emotional support. We work with the family to teach them and refer them to programs that will help eliminate barriers. One of the best stats is that CIS students have a 96% graduation rate.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
The plans for the organization’s future are to secure additional funding and to expand into more schools to serve more students. Personally, I plan to obtain my doctorate in psychology with a focus on youth.

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