By Robbie Owens

by Robbie Owens | CBS 11

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – In Oak Cliff, the community celebrates a milestone in a journey to lift more kids out of poverty. It’s called AtLast!

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“There’s no reason that any child should be without the fundamentals of life, that make life work better. That’s what we want to do here,” says founder and CEO Randy Bowman.

The completion of the first residence on the At Last! Oak Cliff campus celebrated virtually and with a community “drive thru” reception.

Covid-19, says Bowman, will alter the timeline, but not the AtLast! mission.

The program will initially serve students– boys and girls– in grades 3 through 5, and then welcome a lower-level grade each year until it serves students in first through 6th. The first scholars could be welcomed as early as next month for remote learning support.

“The core portion of our program– where the kids come to us at 3:00 in the afternoon and they’re with us until 8:00 the next morning, we have to offer that service and that program at a time when our epidemiologist tells us it’s consistent with public health to do so,” insists Bowman. “I’m not going to cut a corner. I’m not going to chase a headline. We are going to do this when the medical professionals tell us that we should. These children’s lives are too important to do otherwise. And our staffers’ lives are too important.”

The vision for AtLast! seeded in Bowman’s poverty scarred upbringing in Pleasant Grove… one, he without flinching, insists has made him more determined to help others. There’s something, he says, about a “lived experience” as it relates to need.

“My mother was never short on love, she was consistently on resources,” shares Bowan, adding that AtLast! pays tribute to her and others who want better for their children.

“I need to do it for the 9-year-old me over in Pleasant Grove– trying to climb that ladder of opportunity– but the first rung is just too high. And we have to lower that first rung.”

Think of it as learning how to learn. Selected ‘scholars in residence’ will attend their neighborhood schools and live on the AtLast! campus during the week. There, they will receive tutoring, enrichment, a quiet place to study– and the residence is stunning.

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“I want space. I want light. I want color and I want them to be inspired by what’s around them,” says Bowman during a tour of the recently completed residence.

Everything about the spaces is crafted with care– from ensuring the colorful rooms are flooded with light from the rising sun, to the artwork and rugs on the floor.

“Would you really like for your child to be in a place to live and learn where the people hadn’t given a lot of thought to it?”

While Bowman takes credit for the vision, he insists that it is the “village” pushing the effort on its journey.

Well known charitable organizations including The Hoblitzelle Foundation and The Caruth Fund at Communities Foundation of Texas have provided significant financial support.

And Bowman is beyond grateful for the contributions from the community– the black middle class and affluent African Americans are also putting their charitable dollars behind the effort.

And while AtLast! looks to be an agent of change in the community, no, that’s NOT how the effort got its name.

“AtLast! stands for Accessing Transformative Life And Scholastic Tools– At Last!” explains Bowman– before adding with a laugh, “and you thought it was about the song!”

Well, maybe. But the effort and name is about something with an even deeper meaning.

“The best way for me to honor my mother’s sacrifice is to make sure that other mothers who find themselves in her circumstance, are able to approach it differently for their kids. This is what my mother would want.”

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