Liz Zimmerman Keitt believes in giving children a chance to learn in a supportive, caring environment, something which she has done for three decades since establishing a tutorial program that continues to transform the lives of youth.

Project Life: Positeen, an after-school tutorial program, is where students from K5 to high school gather from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday to receive tutoring in math, English-language arts, science, social studies and writing. The center is located at “The Smart Shop” at 349 Summers Ave. in Orangeburg.

Retired teachers are among the staff carrying forward the program’s mission to promote academic and social excellence.

A 30th anniversary gala celebration for Project Life: Positeen will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26, at the Orangeburg County Conference Center under the theme “30 Years of Pride, Progress and Still Striving.” A reception will be held at 6 p.m., with doors opening at 7 p.m. for the celebration, which will include a meal and a DJ.

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‘It was a blessing’

Keitt recalled Project Life: Positeen’s beginnings in 1992, marveling at how she’s still at the helm of helping the community’s children with the program three decades later.

“I believed I’d be here, but I didn’t think I’d be running Project: Life,” she said, laughing.

“I believed the Lord would have me here, but I did not realize that Project: Life would still be existing. Now Project Life is doing even more than what it was doing in the early years,” Keitt said.

Keitt, a former physical education teacher, went on to retire as an employee of Claflin’s purchasing department. She said the idea for the tutorial program came to her while she was sitting on her mom’s couch.

“Project Life came out of the Lord coming to me at my mom’s house. I was on the coach. I had just gotten out the hospital, and the Lord said to me, ‘You have got to do something for these children.’ I don’t know nothing else to do but obey the Lord,” she said.

She proceeded with the program after sharing her vision with John Rickenbacker, who was then the assistant principal at Howard Middle School.

She initially found a location in Orangeburg’s city gym, where she began serving 12 Howard Middle School students. The program grew over that summer and prompted the program’s subsequent move to Claflin’s GTK Building, where Keitt stayed for approximately a year before moving again to Trinity United Methodist Church’s Curry Center.

“I stayed there about a year. I had three rooms there. Then I went back to Claflin’s gym. We kept moving, but we were determined that these children needed help. So we couldn’t stop doing what we were doing,” Keitt said.

She stayed in Claflin’s gym until 2005, when the county gave the program an eight-room house on Summers Avenue. The rest is history.

“That’s how we got a permanent home for Project Life. Lord knows it was a blessing. We didn’t have to move anymore. So then I opened up at Mellichamp and Brookdale elementary schools. Those were the first two schools we started in,” Keitt said.

“Then we opened up in St. Matthews because we knew that St. Matthews needed help. I still want to go back there because I worked there two years, and I knew how the children needed the help. We stayed up there a year, but because of funds we were unable to remain there,” Keitt said.

“I’m still going to talk to the council members there and what have you to see if we can get back up there because every area needs help. Every county needs the help,” she said.

Keitt then opened up her third site in the Orangeburg County School District at Sheridan Elementary School.

“We’ve been at Sheridan about three years, and we’re really within the school district. The superintendent and all the principals are really into this program, and we’re just thankful because of how they’ve opened up their schools to let us have a site there,” she said.

The program was also implemented in Bowman for approximately a year and is looking to expand into Elloree.

“I worked there two years. So I know the area, and I know the young people need the help. We are going to try and do that. I’ve talked with Dr. James Stukes, past of Shiloh AME Church, who has offered us the fellowship hall.

“I’ve also talked with the mayor there. The mayor is trying to get a center open for us but until they do, we’ll go to the fellowship hall,” Keitt said.

The program includes not just tutoring but field trips to provide cultural experiences for children.

“If you don’t take children out of Orangeburg, they will never know anything as to what they have here in comparison to something else. So we do a good bit of traveling. We’ve been as far as Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. They’ve been to Atlanta, Savannah, Columbia, Charleston,” Keitt said.

“The last trip we took this year was at Penn Center in Beaufort, an historic area down there. Even some of our older people didn’t know about Penn Center. Penn Center was where in the ‘60s Martin Luther King could go when he couldn’t go to a hotel, or any of us for that matter. So it’s very historical,” she said.

The program’s funding comes from a variety of sources.

““We have funding from the county, United Way of the Midlands, Department of Juvenile Justice, South Carolina Alliance, the Junior Service League and there are some anonymous ones that send us funds. … We’re thankful for all the help,” Keitt said.

She continued, “The Orangeburg community supports this center. Churches, legislatures and just individuals support this place. The Kiwanis Club gives a scholarship every year to a student going to college. Now they haven’t done it in the last year because we didn’t have one that was a graduate of here, but I’m looking forward to next year because we have 11th-graders this year that are going to 12th grade.”

‘I get to learn life skills’

Keitt said she appreciates her dedicated staff, which shares her passion for children and hard work.

Beverly Pendarvis, Kathy Bryant and Paulette Nicholson are among them.

“The kids keep me young because they give me a lot of energy. Sometimes they struggle with things, and I give them an opportunity to figure it out in their own way to show me things that they know. I like to challenge them a lot,” said Bryant, a K5-second grade teacher.

Bryant continued, “I try to break down a lot of things that’s going on in the world with them so they understand at their level. I also let them know that they are special even if they have problems. They are not by themselves and nobody can laugh at nobody else because everybody’s struggling. I learn something new every day.”

Bryant said she also teaches the children the value of sharing, caring and taking care of one another.

Pendarvis, who tutors third- and fourth-graders, has been with the program eight years.

“I absolutely love it. I work a full-time job, and then I come here in the evening, but I absolutely love it. It’s so rewarding to help the kids with lessons that they don’t understand, or they just need that personal one-on-time to get the understanding, and then they got it,” she said.

Pendarvis said she enjoys working with Keitt.

“I don’t really think I know of any other person as committed to these kids and the community as Liz Keitt. It’s amazing. All the things she do behind the scenes, all the things she do for these kids on weekends: taking them to church, taking them out of town. Even when we’re not in session, just the things that she do alone really bring out her character,” she said, noting that Keitt also believes in teaching the children manners and respect.

“This lady absolutely loves these children and her community. I can’t even stress that enough, and they appreciate it and they listen very well to her,” Pendarvis said.

She said Keitt, who will turn 84 in November, “has got the energy of 20 people.”

Paulette Nicholson is a math tutor who has been with the program for more than 20 years.

What keeps here at the center?

“My love for students and helping them with their math and any problem that they may have encountered,” Nicholson said, noting that she also enjoys working with Keitt.

“It’s a joy. She loves children, and I love children. She’s a dynamic person,” she said.

Twins Ariel and Aries Moore, 10, of Mellichamp Elementary School said they appreciate the instruction they’ve received through the program.

“I like how it helps kids out with their work and homework. I like how Ms. Keitt takes care of kids. We go outside and sometimes we play in the back and play some football and kickball,” Aries said, noting that he also likes the trips he goes on.

“We went to Alabama one time. I like to come here every single day,” he said.

Ariel said, “The program is fun. You get to learn stuff and meet new people. We learn multiplication and how to respect older people.”

Alonzo Moore, 12, of Howard Middle School said he likes the effort Keitt puts in to make sure students learn.

“I like how Ms. Keitt takes us to places to learn about our culture. We learn about social studies, Black people like Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. It feels great because some kids don’t have stuff like we do,” he said.

Amauri Valentine, 11, of Howard Middle School said, “I get to learn life skills about how to treat other people, how to be a better person. Also, Ms. Keitt takes us to places so that we can learn more about our history.”

“It feels good knowing that people can help you with stuff because some kids can’t get the help that we get. So you appreciate it,” he said.

For more information on Project Life’s 30th anniversary gala celebration, call 803-534-4263 or 803-707-5180 or email Individuals can also visit the program’s main site at 349 Summers Ave.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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