Every weekday, 25 to 35 middle school and high school kids show up after school at the St. George’s Scholar Institute, where they learn what it takes to get to college, to succeed in business, and to become a leader.
Arthur Cox, executive director of St. George’s, says the reward for him is seeing young people find their passion.
“My goal is not to pick out careers and tell kids what they need to do,” he says. “My goal is to tap into the passion, to the soul, of each young person. I say ‘If that’s the thing you want to do, let’s put some gasoline on it and get you to where you want to go. Let’s make it a raging fire.’ ”
Since Cox arrived at St. George’s in 2004, he has seen a lot of first-generation college students earn degrees and even start businesses. He mentions one who graduated from pharmacy school at UK, another who earned a Master’s degree from Florida A&M. These are significant accomplishments for kids from the poorest ZIP Codes in Louisville. And he believes that St. George’s puts its students on a trajectory for success.
“We have the school of life. We try to bridge the gap between home and school with structured academic, social or life-path programs.” he says.
St. George’s got its start in the mid-1960s, when some neighborhood kids broke into St. George’s Episcopal Church to play basketball in the gym. Rather than seeking punishment, church leaders opened the facility at 26th and Oak streets and made it an urban mission, hosting community events that encouraged education and recreation.
The non-profit organization had become inactive before Cox was hired in 2004 to revitalize it and continue the mission. A name change came in 2014, and St. George’s Scholar Institute better represented its focus. In 2017, St. George’s began hosting programs at the St. Stephen Family Life Center at 15th and West Kentucky streets.
Over the summer, St. George’s helps more than 70 children in kindergarten through 8th grade, providing meals and activities, while its after-school program, which charges no fees, continues through the school year.
Cox grew up in the city, attending Central and Fairdale high schools. After a stint in the Air Force, he earned a degree in Sports Management from the University of Louisville. He says he was drawn to working with kids, going from one opportunity to another before landing at St. George’s.
“You have to have a passion for young people,” he says. “For me it’s that light coming on for young people to do and believe to be whatever they want to be.”