• Faces of Hope: Tawanda Jones Has Children Stepping to Higher Ground

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    When it was time to leave for college, Destiny was reluctant to go because she couldn’t afford the things she needed. “I went with only the clothes on my back,” she said

    But the drill team raised money and gave it to Destiny and she said, “Then I knew this is like a sisterhood.”

    Still, Destiny struggled academically. At one point, she called Jones crying hysterically, saying she was coming home.

    Jones flew out to Stockton, Ca. to check on Destiny and tell her about other options such as getting a tutor, possibilities Destiny didn’t even know existed. “The next semester, I got all As,” Destiny said.

    Now she’s working on her master’s degree in education at Washington State University and has a scholarship for a doctoral program. She credits Jones with making the difference.

    “Jones, who sees it differently, said, “She always says, ‘If it wasn’t for the drill team,’ but I said, ‘Sweetie, it was always in you. I saw it.’”

    Jones was named a CNN Hero, based on a nomination by Destiny, who calls Jones “a guardian angel to so many of us.”

    Taron Green was 15 and walking down the street when he said, “This strange lady pulled up on me in her car and started talking. She asked me if I wanted to play drums. I was skeptical at first. But I went in (to a rehearsal)—and I never left.”

    In fact, Taron was on his way to commit a robbery, part of his initiation into a gang, when Jones, who had no idea, invited him to join the TAPS drum line.

    Now 27, Green mentors other young men because he saw how the program changed his life. “I became more stable, more patient,” he said. “I learned to control my anger.”

    Today, he is the members of a Philadelphia band called A Level Gentlemen. He also met his girlfriend, who was on the drum team also. The two have a six-month-old son and WaWa is the godmother.

    Last month Jones, now 40, and her girls received national attention with media coverage that started with an appearance on Good Morning America where they were surprised by a video message from Beyonce.

    Jones’s dream is to open up the Dynamite Center, a tribute to her grandfather and the family she says taught her to love everyone. She wants a larger permanent space so she doesn’t have to turn any kid away.

    “Before I leave this earth, my babies will have the biggest stage…” said Jones, who has 326 kids on her roster right now and said over 600 showed up for their last audition.

    She admits she is attracted to the “unruly kids. They just want a kiss,” she offered.

    Her three children—27, 17 and eight–are involved in the family business also, which allows them to spend time together.

    When she turned 40, Jones said, her girlfriends wanted to take her to Cancun. Instead, she pleaded with them to help her put on “Love Changes Everything,” an evening where the CSS children could showcase their talents.

    “Over 800 people came out to support the kids,” said Jones. “It was the best day of my life.”

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