A VISIT TO the Youth Study Center when she was a child convinced Cynthia Small that it was the one place she would avoid at all costs.

Not that there was any chance that Cynthia would ever wind up there as an inmate, but it was a lesson that stuck in her mind.

But for her mother, Naomi Hall, the Youth Study Center was where she met the challenge of educating youngsters sent there for criminal behavior, not a few of whom were thought by others to be incorrigible.

Naomi taught home economics in the juvenile-detention facility for nearly 30 years. She was "Mom Small," highly respected by the young inmates, all of whom she believed could rise above their circumstances and return to society.

Naomi Jaudon Small, a daughter of the South who brought her Southern-style cooking skills to Philadelphia from her native Georgia, a teacher, social worker and active churchwoman, died Sunday of lung cancer. She was 79 and lived in Sewell, N.J.

Naomi, who married a fellow teacher, ran a household that emphasized education. Once, during a teachers' strike, Cynthia remembered, her parents had her and her brother watching WHYY, the PBS station, to continue learning.

When Cynthia and brother Gregory were kids, their parents took them on an auto trip all over the country one summer. In fact, Cynthia recalls, they visited every state.

Of course, a primary purpose of the adventure was education. Cynthia and Gregory learned about the country, lessons that would remain with them all their lives.

At the Youth Study Center, Naomi was so popular among the inmates that if some of them misbehaved in her home-ec class, the other kids would make it clear that they didn't act like that in Mom Small's class.

Part of their education was preparing holiday meals for themselves and the school staff. She retired in 1993.

Naomi also enjoyed sewing, and Cynthia remembers when the Ellwood School in East Oak Lane held a fashion show and Cynthia showed up to model a stylish dress that her mother had made for her.

"I have so many fond memories of my mother," Cynthia said. "She was very giving. If she could help someone, she did. I'm so glad she was my mom."

Naomi was an outstanding cook in the Southern tradition. Cynthia remembers fondly her macaroni and cheese and fried chicken, prepared with a hefty dash of love.

Naomi was born in Brunswick, Ga., where she received her early education. She later went to North Carolina A&T State University, in Greensboro, graduating in 1956 with a degree in home-economics education and science.

After she moved to Philadelphia, she became reacquainted with Will Small, who had been a junior-high classmate in Georgia. They were married in 1957.

Her husband taught special education in Philadelphia schools and worked for the Postal Service. The family lived in West Oak Lane before moving to Sewell.

Naomi was a social worker for the Philadelphia Public Welfare Department before she went to the Youth Study Center.

She was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the North Carolina A&T Alumni Association. She was an active member of St. Matthew's Baptist Church in Williamstown, Gloucester County, where she volunteered in the day-care center.

"A Southern belle with a soft voice, she was the center of her family," the family said.

Besides her husband, son and daughter, she is survived by a stepson, Bradley; six brothers and two sister; and seven grandchildren.

Services: 10 a.m. Monday at St. Matthew's Baptist Church, 245 Glassboro Road, Williamstown, N.J. Friends may call at 9 a.m. An earlier viewing will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1616, 1940 Black Horse Pike, Williamstown. Burial is at Northwood Cemetery, 1501 Haines St., West Oak Lane.