Project Lift offers recreation, life lessons
William Hawkins IV plays football and wrestles, but says weightlifting is his favorite thing to do.
The 9-year-old Vance Charter School student knows he likes bringing hardware back to Henderson although he isn’t clear on what his trophy tally is up to now.
“Like 12?” he said. “I don’t know. I have a lot. I don’t count.”
His father, William Hawkins III, likes the winning part too, but that’s not why he founded Project Lift.
Prior to starting the weightlifting program in 1997, Hawkins was introduced to a few kids in his neighborhood that were getting into trouble with regularity. They started coming over to lift weights and he took them to the YMCA to do the same.
Hawkins, a Norfolk, Va. native, noticed the positive effect the lifting had on the boys and began asking around about developing a program before eventually securing a grant for equipment.
Currently, 26 students participate in Project Lift, ranging in age from 5-18. Many are referred through Vance County Schools, social services or the court system.
“This is a good coping ground right here,” said Hawkins. “It gives them something to do.”
Hawkins said an emphasis is also placed on life skills. Motivational speakers often visit the group.
Project Lift has been working out at Eaton-Johnson Middle School on Mondays and Thursdays for the last four years.
Eaton-Johnson student Xavier Nicholas, 12, has been involved with the program for six years.
“I like being around other people and being around my friends,” said Nicholas, “being around different people from different schools.”
Hawkins works as a social worker at Western Vance High School and Vance County Early College. His Project Lift staff of Jeanette Bell, Harold Davis, Darnell Lewis, Wanda Burwell, Lewis Brodie, Steven Dailey, and Bobby Jones is volunteer.
“We don’t get a dime for this,” said Hawkins, ‘but we love it.”
Bell has been with Project Lift since 2004. She said kids often enter the program with low self-esteem.
“They don’t have a lot of confidence in themselves,” said Bell. “And this helps them with that, doing something they’ve never done before.”
Project Lift has been doing a lot of winning. With such a large number of students traveling, transportation is often an obstacle, but Hawkins is confident the team will win if he can get them to the competition.
Project Lift competes three to four times per year and had a successful showing in last month’s Iron Boy Powerlifting Championships in Statesville, winning two overall youth team bench press titles in the male and female divisions and setting 12 state records.
“You tell me that ain’t doing good right there,” said Hawkins.
The team also competes through AAU and the Raw Powerlifting Federation.
Bell typically guides the girls. Females joined Project Lift about six years ago.
“They’re a lot more disciplined than the boys are,” said Hawkins. “I don’t know what the deal is, but they are a lot more disciplined.”
Taliyah Jones has been with Project Lift for six years. The 18-year-old Western Vance student followed in the footsteps of her twin sister, Aliyah, a former Project Lift member.
“It’ll make you strong,” said Taliyah Jones, who hopes to be a coach one day. “It will help you stay out of trouble.”
Hawkins said the young kids provide the toughest challenge. With such a young bunch, the group has currently been focused primarily on bench pressing rather than squats or deadlifts.
“The first couple of weeks, it was the devil to get them jokers to sit down,” said Hawkins. “Now after they learn what to expect — I’ve never had to put any of these kids out of here or anything.”
Both Hawkins and Bell have lifted competitively. Hawkins was introduced to the sport by his brother, David, who played football at Marshall.
Bell hopes the team will be able to join more competitions in the future.
“That just hypes them up,” she said. “They love it when they see someone they can compete against.”
Hawkins would like to see Project Lift expand to neighboring counties. He and Bell are convinced the concept behind the program works.
“The kids are happy,” said Bell. “They look forward to coming in here. That’s important. Living in Vance County, it’s not a lot for the kids to do. And this gives them something to do.”
Iron Boy Powerlifting Championships Results
— Jaylah Jefferson, 66-pound class (ages 5-6): state-record 35-pound bench
— Latoya Stephens, 66-pound class (ages 8-9): state-record 45-pound bench
— Raven Stevens, 77-pound class (ages 10-11): state-record 45-pound bench
— Amirgh McCremmon, 97-pound class (ages 10-11): first-place 50-pound bench
— Victoria Hicks, 114-pound class (ages 8-9): state-record 80-pound bench
— Phoenix Stephens, 114-pound class (ages 10-11): first-place 60-pound bench
— Destiny Hawkins, 123-pound class (ages 12-13): first-place 55-pound bench
— Taliyah Jones, 220-pound class (ages 18-19): 160-pound bench
— K’Veon Taylor, 66-pound class (ages 8-9): state-record 55-pound bench
— Demartez Taylor, 66-pound class (ages 6-7): first-place 30-pound bench
— Kory Billings Jr., 66-pound class (ages 5-and-under): state-record 30-pound bench
— Jalen Reid, 88-pound class (ages 10-11): state-record 80-pound bench
— William Hawkins IV, 88-pound class (ages 8-9): state-record 80-pound bench
— Jalen Jefferson: state-record 70-pound bench
— Xavier Nicholas: 114-pound class (ages 12-13): first-place 110-pound bench
— Elijah Brown: 114-pound class (ages 12-13): second-place 55-pound bench
— Tyric Keith: 114-pound class (ages 14-15): 105-pound bench
— Darnez Taylor: 123-pound class (ages 8-9): state-record 90-pound bench
— Demonte Southerland: 108-pound division (ages 10-11): first-place 130-pound bench
— Joseph Ortiz: 148-pound class (ages 14-15): first-place 150-pound bench
— Zion Copeland: 148-pound class (ages 14-15): first-place 165-pound bench
— Desmond Mills: 148-pound class (ages 12-13): first-place 135-pound bench
— Smarrious Keith: 181-pound class (ages 12-13): first-place 115-pound bench
— Jordan Howard: 220-pound class (ages 12-13): state-record 180-pound bench
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