Mitzi Perdue: Epoch Center improving students’ lives

Up until just about a year ago, Hebron fourth-grader Steven (not his real name) wouldn’t speak.

He rarely talked at home and he almost never talked at school. He had no friends and was extremely withdrawn. Instead of participating in PE, he’d just sit it out.

There were some reasons for this.  His father had been killed several years ago and although he has a loving mother, she’s struggling with an income that’s well below the poverty line, and things are far from easy at home.

Things changed for the better when Steven became one of the 37 students who now come to the free after-school program in Hebron, the Epoch Dream Center. As JoAnn Blackmon, the program director explains,  “It is our mission to mentor, nurture, encourage, and equip children in the areas of academics, character development, behavior, and emotional wellness.”

It’s an ambitious goal, but the results have been outstanding. Part of their success comes from embedding a culture that will help the youngsters have a fulfilling life.

This culture includes “the Epoch Code.”  It consists of:

  •       Work hard.
  •       Respect authority.
  •       Love everyone.
  •       Forgive quickly.

Blackmon works to make the code becomes part of who the children are. “We chant it, we sing it, and when there’s a discipline issue, a child will be asked to think about what part of the Epoch code the child didn’t follow.

For the working-hard part, the participants are encouraged to think of their homework as their job and they’re to work hard at it.  But their jobs also include such things as helping with the dishes during the family meals or vacuuming or other work to maintain the Epoch center.

Blackmon works to instill a sense of pride in work well done.

“Are you proud of the vacuuming you just did?” she’ll ask one of the students, and then she’s happy as can be when she gets an answer like, “Yes, come see it!  I’m proud of it!”

She also encourages respect for authority. She wants them to show respect  to the bus driver and the person who helps serve their food.

An additional part of Epoch is that girl students have female mentors and the boy students have male mentors.

Blackmon points out that. “For children who don’t have a close connection with an adult role model, it’s amazing the difference for how they feel about themselves when someone pours their time into them like this.”

A moment ago, you read about Steven.  What happened to him and his not speaking?

Blackmon has a way of encouraging children to talk, but it took time.  Part of Epoch includes having every child tell about the high point and the low point of their day. Initially, Steven’s answers were monosyllables, or he’d just repeat what someone else had answered.

The truth is, answering was hard for him because no one had ever asked him about his day.  He had no idea even how to answer.

But as his experience with Epoch continued, and as he became closer and closer to the new adults in his life, all this changed.

When Blackmon asked Steven recently, he cheerfully answered, “The best thing today was when Mr. Jake and I played the piano together!”

Steven’s teachers are noticing the difference.  Not only is he talking, he’s getting good grades and he’s proud of his achievements.

Blackmon is proud of successes like this, but she wishes there were more mentors available for the Epoch youngsters. “We have five students who do not have mentors. If you’d be willing to be a mentor, we’d ask you to come for an hour a week.”

She’d also particularly welcome financial donations or any suggestions on grant opportunities.  You can contact JoAnn Blackmon at 443-783-3683 or email her at

Salisbury author Mitzi Perdue writes about local United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore funded agencies for Salisbury Independent.


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