The young men slowly streamed into the Old Mt. Zion Church last Friday, much like their forebears had 32 times before. They didn’t know it at the time, but they were about to embark on a rite of passage known as Project Alpha — a program billed as a teenage pregnancy prevention retreat.

Between 25 to 30 boys from all five local middle schools, some the sons of Albany Alpha Phi Alpha members, others recommended by counselors at local schools, took part in the retreat over the weekend at the Kolomoki Mounds historic site near Blakely.

Former Dougherty County Schools Superintendent John Culbreath is regarded at the project’s mentor, and he personally greeted each boy who came through the door.

“Welcome, young man, what is your name?” Culbreath would ask, then thank the boys’ fathers for allowing the group to teach their children.

“I do this because I get a chance to give back and because I remember the teachers, coaches, principals, Sunday school teachers and preachers who all helped me growing up,” Culbreath said. “I see this as a chance to give a portion back, but you can never fully repay. Yet you can gain by sowing seeds in other people by watching them become better men … and that’s what it’s all about.”

The annual retreat, which has been sponsored by the fraternity chapter for more than 30 years, gives middle school-aged boys an opportunity to learn the truths about their burgeoning sexuality and offers fact-based instruction that helps them separate truth from the misguided information that they hear on the playgrounds. And that information comes from a man’s point of view.

While the location of the retreat has changed over the years, the message that the Alpha mentors present to their young charges has remained the same.

“We always take a man-to-man approach with them on teenage pregnancy prevention on the retreat,” organizer T. Marshall Jones, who has been to each of the gatherings, said. “We have professionals in all of the areas: social, psychological, medical and so on. We’ve not only seen an increase in the number of boys, we’ve also seen increases in parental involvement. Many of them will sit in and see what takes place during the study period.

“And that has been one of the great pluses of the program.”

Jones said past retreats have included experts like Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards, Lt. Keron Hayes with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office, robotics instructors Roderick and Bobby Hand, Youth Development Specialist Marcus Girard, physician Dr. Devell Young and Albany State University head football coach Dan Land who have spoken with the youngsters over three Saturday sessions.

And over the years, many of the retreat’s graduates return to give back to the program.

“You notice the kids we get in the eighth grade, when they come back they are taller and bigger,” Culbreath said. “It’s really so gratifying to see them set out to do what we had asked — finish middle school, finish high school and go to college, go to the military or go to work and do something worthwhile with their lives.”

Dr. William Berry is the project director, and he said he is proud of what the project and young men have accomplished.

“We take and place the young men in an all-male environment to talk about preventing teen pregnancy from a male perspective,” Berry said. “They can ask questions they would not ask in mixed company. Most of the pregnancy prevention programs you see are focused on the girls, and we think it’s important that boys are part of the process before they become sexually active.

“I think we have a very successful program, and I hope we are making an impact on their lives.”

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