‘The strengths of the future’

Derik Vanderford|The Union Daily Times The Village Children Academy program Executive Director Donald “Doc” Lyles, right, and Associate Director Nancy Kennington, left, are pictured with Riley Kennington, center, during Saturday’s kickoff event.

UNION — A new program uses an old proverb as a guideline for providing education, sports and mentor opportunities for local children.

The Village Children Academy Summer Program held its kickoff event Saturday at the Housing Authority Center at Horseshoe Circle in Union. Named from the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” the Village Children Academy is a non-profit organization which was created to offer children educational direction, sports diversity and development through mentoring.

The Executive Director of the organization is Donald Lyles, whose vision led to the creation of the Village Children Academy program.

Lyles said his expectations of the program are that “well educated, dedicated students will be the peace-makers of tomorrow and the strengths of the future.”

Over 40 years ago, Lyles began using his own money to help youth with whom he came in contact, developing a concept with minimal support other than his own personal finances and vision. He has since earned a business degree from the University of South Carolina Union and sponsored sports such as football, baseball and basketball in the Columbia, Spartanburg and Union areas. Lyles has also been involved with the Columbia Culturette Club, which he said presents young women to society in a debutante-like fashion. In 1968, Lyles received the A.A. Sims Memorial Award in Sports and Academics which embodies the ideology that education is tantamount to success — the same ideology Lyles hopes to develop through the Village Children Academy concept.

Lyles plans to offer programs including auto mechanics, brick masonry, business shadowing, camping, car maintenance, carpentry, exercise, gardening and sports.

During Saturday’s event, applications were available for children to sign up, and in addition to contact information, the application also asked for the child’s favorite hobbies, subjects in school, music and foods. Students age 10 and above were asked to write five to eight sentences about what they wanted to be five to ten years after they graduate high school.

There were also forms available for those who want to pledge or donate financial support for the program. Funding is needed for utilities, supplies, activities, guest speakers and staff. The donations would be tax-deductible, and an accountability system for funds accrued will be put into place, with quarterly reports made available to all contributors upon request.

The Village Children Academy Associate Director Nancy E. Kennington spoke to those in attendance Saturday. Kennington is a retired teacher who taught grades 9-12 in Cherokee County. She is also a mother and grandmother who was accompanied by her two grandsons — Cole and Riley — at Saturday’s event.

“Little did I know that when I met Mr. Donald Lyles — while I was getting gas Oct. 14, 2014, at 9:30 p.m. — how I looked at life would change forever,” Kennington said. “This encounter supplied me with a brand new outlook for the future and a new friend with a vision, along with the anticipation of an exciting new adventure just around the corner waiting to happen.”

Kennington said Lyles — who she refers to as “Doc” — had the foresight to recognize that before a child can be taught, the child has to believe he or she can achieve success.

“Many of our youth have never had the strength to meet hatred with the power of love, much less realize that there are people outside their frame of reference who care because they choose to, not because they have to,” Kennington said.

Kennington also said that although Lyles realizes financial support is a necessity, he believes honesty and integrity will be the catalyst in turning his vision into reality.

“Donald’s faith has allowed him to place this aspect completely in the hands of God to supply all the needs, even the financial ones,” Kennington said, explaining that Lyles often encourages her and others by saying, “In God we trust,” or “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“At times, I have wondered how Doc maintains such a positive attitude; that is when he reminds me to ‘let go and let God,’” Kennington said. “Challenges will be great; overcoming skepticism and building trust will be two of the things that challenge us, but we are committed to overcoming such situations. While we are not completely there yet, we can definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

For more information about registering a child for the program or to make a pledge or donation, contact Donald E. “Doctor” Lyles at (803) 924-9069 or donlyles99@gmail.com, or contact Nancy Kennington at (864) 706-6875 or nekennington@gmail.com.