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The J. C. COOLEY FOUNDATION

OPTIONS & OPPORTUNTIES: THE CHOICE PROGRAM

Equipping the Youth of Today for the Challenges of Tomorrow

"Life is a series of circles and cycles, phases and stages. These are your experiences that teach you the lessons of life. EMBRACE them, even if it is hard to do so." - J.C. Cooley (Founder)

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The J.C. Cooley Foundation
Options & Opportunities: The Choice Program (OOCP)
P O Box 891989
Temecula, CA 92589-1989

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My name is James Cooley, Jr.  I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee on September 25, 1959.  My mother—who never married—had 10 children by 6 different fathers.  I grew up in one of the most dangerous housing project areas in Chattanooga.  In 1965, my mother was unable to take care of all 10 children.  She chose to send my brother Jerry (7 years old) and me (6 years old) to Graham, Alabama to live with my Uncle Robert and Aunt Geneva Stephens.  I remember knowing, even as a young child living in Chattanooga, that it was very difficult for my mother to feed all of us kids, but we did have modern accommodations—electricity, indoor plumbing, bathrooms, stove, heat, and fridge.  My new accommodations in Alabama, however, were vastly different.  We had no modern electricity, no indoor plumbing, no bathrooms, no stove, no heat, no fridge.  Instead, we had a pull bucket well, an outhouse in the pasture for bathroom service, and a small smokehouse to preserve our food, along with chickens, a few pigs and cows, and—most importantly—a mule to help us gather firewood and haul other things.

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My point is that, despite the lack of modern conveniences, I felt extremely rich because the biggest thing I had in Alabama was LOVE.  That is where I gained my Knowledge, Understanding, and Core Values (my foundation) that I live by TODAY. I believe that being exposed to love, honesty, and trust gives us the building blocks that create our CHARACTER.

I lived with my aunt and uncle for 5½ years before returning to Chattanooga to reunite with my mother and siblings.  Upon returning, I noticed that nothing had changed from the previous 5 ½ years.  Death occurred on a regular basis right in front of me, just as it had prior to my move.  Seeing a person get shot, stabbed, or subjected to other horrible occurrences was an everyday event.  In the projects/ghetto where I lived, a person had no way out—there was no escaping that cycle where only the same negative driving forces pushed the next generation and the next and the next.  This was a generational time warp that all who lived this endured.  The only way that I could see to escape was through education or college.  When I entered 9th grade, I had an English teacher named (if I remember correctly) Mrs. Wilson.  She was a beautiful lady, and is still one of the most caring teachers that I know.  One day Mrs. Wilson approached me and changed my FOCUS on how I saw life.  She asked me if I would be attending the local high school which was about one mile from where I lived.  I answered yes.  She told me that I had the ability to attend the top high school in Chattanooga—Kirkman Vocational Technology High—located 7 miles across town.  She asked me to test for entry and said I should think about attending this school.  Up to that point, NO ONE had ever told me I had the ability to do anything.  I tested and was accepted into that school.

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Over the next three years, I had to travel to my high school by any way possible—walk or thumb a ride. However, I did extremely well in school and I graduated. 

After graduating from high school, though, I found myself still trapped in the projects/ghetto with no way out.  There was one road that led to employment for an uneducated person or someone possessing a high school diploma, and I headed down that road.  I was very familiar with this road, and I knew where it might end because so many people in my area only traveled this road.

One thing we did not have was a good understanding of the word VISION.  Therefore, we had tunnel vision—or what I call PARADIGMS—as we traveled down that one road. 

One day I was walking down that road and I accidentally took off my tunnel vision blinders and I shifted my PARADIGMS.  As I continued walking down that road, I thought of a poem written by Robert Frost, called “The Road Less Traveled.”  Again, as I walked, I looked straight ahead and saw thousands and thousands of footsteps.  Then, I looked to the left and saw a few footsteps and thought this could be another potential road.  I looked to the right and saw even more footsteps.  Now my thoughts were: I have OPTIONS, through OPTIONS, there are OPPORTUNITIES.  But I only have one chance to make the right CHOICE.  What should I do?  It was clear to me that risks were involved; therefore, most chose to take the road most traveled.  I decided to take the road leading to the left that only had a few footsteps.  As I walked down this road, I saw a bus that approached and stopped.  I got on the bus.  As this bus pulled off, I looked up and saw a sign that said NAVY.  As I traveled on the Navy bus, I saw many, many more roads intersecting this path that I chose.  As I grew and matured in my journey in the Navy, I learned to capture the advantages of the education opportunities offered through U. S. Navy programs.  In addition, I utilized the Navy’s travel opportunities, as well as the opportunities to learn and be mentored by some of the most inspirational leaders who have shaped me into the individual that I am TODAY.

As I mentioned, this all started from the feeling I had of being LOVED in Graham, Alabama.  It continued with my 9th grade English teacher telling me that I had the ability to do something with my life. And, most importantly, it became real through my willingness to take risks/roads that others are not willing to travel.

In closing, I believe that regardless of where a person comes from, regardless of how bad a person’s situation or circumstances, regardless of the societal odds at stake against a person or even the generation that person may have been born in—if we as people learn to LOVE and push our past perceptions aside, we can make a difference in the lives of many of our youths and young adults.  We must let them know that there are OPTIONS and OPPORTUNITIES awaiting them. We must help them make right CHOICES.

This is why I created The J. C. Cooley OPTIONS & OPPORTUNITIES/The CHOICE Program.  It has been said that IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE ONE CHILD.  We are asking you to help us equip Today’s Youth for Tomorrow’s Challenges. Please choose to walk this path with us by supporting the J. C. Cooley OPTIONS & OPPORTUNITIES/ The CHOICE Program, a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization.

"My Path" by James Cooley is published in booklet form.

Copies of this publication are available in exchange for a donation - please contact James Cooley for further information.

(817) 729-6272
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I want to extend a thank you to you, and your entire foundation, for partnering with our school!  We have been honored by your presence and support during our assembly as well as our 6th Annual Awards Banquet.  Our twelfth grade students benefited from writing the essay prompt, as it made them think about their past leadership qualities and where they are headed.  Your presentation at the awards ceremony was wonderful and I know our students, parents and staff appreciated your words and encouragement.  The winner of the Cooley Foundation Scholarship was very surprised and your support has confirmed that there are people to support him in his future endeavors.  He is excited for his future at Cal State San Marcos and your financial support is greatly appreciated. -- Debbie Thurston, River Springs High School

ADDRESS

The J.C. Cooley Foundation
Options & Opportunities: The Choice Program (OOCP)
P O Box 891989
Temecula, CA 92589-1989

(915) 760-0414

info@cooleyfoundation.org

 

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