Program to make EPIC change

By Amanda Porterfield |

Published 07/10 2014 10:17PM

Updated 07/11 2014 12:10PM

CHAMPAIGN -- A new program called EPIC teaches kids who make money illegally how to start a legitimate business. WCIA-3's Amanda Porterfield has the story.

"I had a gang member tell me you don't have anything to offer them. They can offer them money. And it always stuck with me because its true," says Reverend Eugene Barnes.

This man says he's found something better to offer kids who would otherwise keep living life on the streets. EPIC teaches kids who make money illegally how to start a legitimate business. But, the program could be short-lived.

Champaign Township gave this group $10,000. While it's a great start, it won't keep it going beyond the summer, and for many of these kids, this program is their only way out.

Everyday Daveyonte Fairman walks a very fine line.

"I ain't too far from my old life. Like, this life right here and this life right here, we ain't too far apart and I'm just trying to hold on," says Fairman.

Like many of the kids here, he's hanging onto Reverend Eugene Barne's every word, hoping he can convince them that a real job is better than getting quick money on the streets.

At 17, Fairman got arrested for carrying a gun. After a while, he'd spent more time in jail than in school and finally just dropped out.

"No father. Father died when I was three months, got killed. A mother with five kids raising us by herself," says Fairman. "That's probably one reason I dropped out. I got involved in the streets, trying to hustle and trying to do what I can to provide for my family and you can't just do what you want to do out here."

Now at 19, he has three kids to support. It's one of the main reasons he's chosen the EPIC program. He and 22 other kids will sit here for seven weeks and get anywhere from $200 - $400 when its over.

Reverend Barnes says that money is what attracts them here. However, once they get inside, they get the keys to multiply that money for life.

"We cannot afford to ignore the ill will that is set against a certain population and, if we ignore it right now, it comes back to bite us," says Barnes.

Reverend Barnes treats this like a job. Kids have to be on time and put in around 20 hours a week. They learn public speaking and the basics of running a business. However, right now Barnes is the only teacher. They need volunteers and local businesses to invest. Without it, the scales could tip back toward the streets.

"I think I am a different person now. It's real hard to change when all you know are the streets. It's really hard to change, but I am going to get it together," says Fairburn.

The students will be in a play. It will be about a gang that's looking to put money into a positive business and seeks help from the city council. On August 11, it will be performed in the Champaign City Council Chambers and aired on Channel 5 at a later date.

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