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Long-time Russellville SPAN coordinator retires

Remona Roberson has spent her career working to improve the lives of young people. It’s something she feels passionately about, the care and compassion evident in her voice when she talks about Franklin County’s SPAN, a day treatment program for at-risk youths, for which she is the program coordinator.

Roberson will soon lay that mantle down, as she will retire the first of May.

SPAN, or Special Programming for Achievement Network, provides academic assistance and counseling services for students referred by the juvenile court system or the Russellville City or Franklin County school systems. It’s part of a statewide program, along with six others.

Roberson said social work in general and SPAN in particular have allowed her to focus where she feels most drawn to help. “As a Christian, I wanted to go into an area where I would be able to minister and help other people,” she said. “Getting a degree in social work provided me the avenue to be able to fulfill my goals in helping and working with youth.”

Roberson, who lives in Decatur with her husband, Vance, works in the Russellville location along with certified master level teacher Mindy Harris and two counselors, Councilman Jamie Harris and LeAnn Strickland. Once located at College Avenue Elementary, the program is now operated out of the basement of the First United Methodist Church in downtown Russellville.

“We are fortunate to have a fantastic staff that cares about the students and wants to see them succeed,” explained Roberson. “We all care very much about the students and doing whatever we can to help them improve their lives.”

On an average day, she can be found interacting with staff and students, interfacing with community stakeholders and otherwise working to enable the students in the program to have better opportunities to be successful.

Roberson has been with SPAN for almost 20 years and has served as program coordinator since June 2002; her roots, however, go back even further – to SPAN’s beginnings.

“There was an opening in my hometown of Gadsden, in a pilot program called the C.I.T.Y. program, Community Intensive Treatment for Youth,” explained Roberson. At the time, she had just graduated from Troy University with a degree in social work. “The founder hired me as a counselor. This is the program that eventually became SPAN.”

With her husband’s work as a football coach, the family moved around, and Roberson wound up leaving to work for the Department of Human Resources in Mobile, Auburn and, finally, Decatur. All through the years, however, she kept up with SPAN’s founder, Ed Ernest, who was also the state director of the program. It was through maintaining this connection that she eventually wound up working for the program in its current form.

It’s the one-on-one approach of SPAN that drew Roberson in. “I strongly believe in the behavior modification program the students are on to reward their good behavior,” she sid. “It helps them see personal success is possible.”

She said the goal is to get them headed in a better direction.

“We aim to get the students to the point where they can go back to school – or, if they are 17 or 18 and have dropped out, we work with them on getting their GED,” she said. “Since the doors opened in 1999, we have served more than 1,300 students and their families.

“The schools tell us the subjects the students need to work on. They receive one hour of group training each day where they are taught life skills, in addition to counselors working with them one-on-one to help with personal problems,” Roberson explained. “Our goal is to keep them from continuing to get in trouble. We work closely with the other social agencies in the community to offer our students the services they need.”

She said the most rewarding part of working with the program has been being able to help the students turn their lives around, believe in themselves and see that they can succeed in reaching their goals.

Among the many students who have stood out to Roberson during her time with the program, one got his GED through SPAN and went on to community college, got an electrician certificate and works for the electrical company. Another was placed in a better living situation and later returned to the community to work and live after graduation. A third student got her GED, obtained a bachelor’s in nursing and is now the director of a nursing home.

“There are so many wonderful examples of success stories,” explained Roberson. “When you look at our numbers, we have about an 84 percent success rate of students getting back into school or getting their GED and/or getting a job. We have heard back from many of the students later on when they returned to share their stories.”

District Judge Paula McDowell said the program offers helpful alternatives to the juvenile judicial system and commended the work Roberson has done to help make it so successful.

“We are one of just a few counties to have a SPAN program, and we’re fortunate to have that as an option,” McDowell said. “Students who are able to take advantage of the program are able to stay at home and work on improving their personal problems and doing better with their academics.”

Although Roberson is still enjoying the work she has loved all through the years, she said it’s time for new adventures. As her retirement approaches, she is making plans to spend more time with her children, Bonnie Claire Northcutt, Jack Roberson and Natalie Vetter, and her 11 grandchildren and also to travel with her husband.

For SPAN advisory board member Nancy Cooper, Roberson’s departure from the program represents a significant loss. “Remona is such a wonderful person and has been a terrific program coordinator,” Cooper said. “While I hate to see her go, she’s leaving behind an inspiring history of accomplishment.”

Assistant Franklin County Superintendent Dr. Johnny Cleveland expressed his admiration for the work being done.

“We are excited for Remona Roberson in her upcoming retirement from SPAN,” Cleveland said. “She has always been a tremendous asset to the students of Franklin County, and we wish her well in her new endeavors.”

Russellville Mayor David Grissom also described the program as an ongoing success for the community.

“I have known Mrs. Roberson for many years through being a continued supporter of the SPAN program. She has always involved the community and community leaders to share the continued need for SPAN in Russellville, and we have been grateful to have a dedicated leader for this type of program in our area to help students in need,” Grissom said. “She has made a tremendous impact in the lives of many students throughout her many years leading the Franklin County SPAN program.”

Harris said Roberson’s dedication to helping her students is something he has had ample opportunity to see for himself.

“I have worked under Remona’s leadership for more than 20 years, and I’ve seen the value of having a good leader,” he said. “We have always been treated like family, and the life she shows for the students, staff and program in general has always been evident.”

Harris described her as a staunch advocate for her students and staff, noting she has made an “extremely positive” impact on both.

“Remona has always involved the community to help the program be and remain successful,” he said. “I’m grateful to have worked with her, and she leaves a legacy of love and compassion for the students and staff served by the program. We will continue that legacy after her retirement.”

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