When Overland Park pastor Jonas Hayes signed on to help produce a documentary, he just wanted people to know how much a program he brought to Greenville, Miss., was helping the community.
He didn’t know that a year after he finished work on the short film it would win multiple awards, including one it received earlier this month for Best Short Documentary at the Madrid International Film Festival in Spain.
“This is the first time that I’d worked on a documentary,” said Hayes, now a pastor at Grace Covenant Church in Overland Park. “I just thought this is such an amazing story to tell, this story has to be told on a larger level.”
The movie took a year to film and follows Delta 180, a nonprofit that partners with a national education and mentorship organization called the 180 Degrees Program.
Hayes decided to introduce the program to Washington County, Miss., in 2010 when he worked as a pastor at a church in Greenville. When he moved to the area, he saw a community with a struggling public education system and a rising number of crimes committed by people younger than 18.
“I think the community as a whole thought it was spinning out of control, seeing the crime rates, seeing kids getting involved in gang activity,” Hayes said.
The national 180 Degrees Program, which is mostly concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, focuses on improving student GPAs and class attendance by coaching them in things like personal responsibility, life skills and community outreach. The Delta 180 program operates independently as a nonprofit but partners with the national group for training and curriculum.
Greenville public schools saw a 50 percent increase in attendance from students in the program, and their grades were going up, too.
Teachers and parents referred students to Delta 180, which Hayes says helps some of the most disadvantaged teens and preteens in the area. As its popularity grew, more students started seeking the program out on their own, Hayes said.
After seeing the success of the program in Greenville, the president of the national organization called Hayes and said a documentary about Delta 180 could give the program a boost. Hayes contacted director Anne Rayner, whom he’d met when he first started working at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville. Within a few weeks, they’d worked out a contract with Cypress Bend Productions. Hayes and Dean Renfrow, founder of the national group, served as executive producers of the film.
“We knew the story we wanted to tell,” Hayes said. “We helped put together the screenplay and selected the people we wanted to be interviewed.”
Hayes moved to his current job in Overland Park in September, but the Delta 180 program continues growing in Greenville.
When Hayes first started the program, public schools weren’t ready to take on another project, so he reached out to local churches to help get the project off the ground. Now three years after the program began, public schools have signed on and host most of Delta 180’s meetings and classes.
You can watch the documentary online by visitingdelta180inc.org and clicking the “Delta Film Documentary” link on the right side.