Classes are back in session. Across the country students have written about or discussed, “What I Did on my Summer Vacation.” Some may have been fortunate to go to camp, or some had part-time jobs to occupy those spaces in time when they would rather be playing video games, shooting hoops, roaming the malls with friends or binge watching reality programs. But how many actually had the chance to learn something with lasting effect and impact for the rest of their lives?
Enter Youth With a Future, an offshoot of the Transformational Leadership Forum, an urban leadership development program based in spiritual and Christian values. Youth Witha Future mentors understand that our cities will need effective leaders in communities in order to keep moving forward. Urban youths face challenges-in schools, at home, from their peers and on the streets. At-risk young people often have no place to turn to for positive guidance. There are great mentoring programs such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters – which can take youth out of negative environments. However, few may offer spiritual guidance to reinforce their positive experiences.
Most participants this summer were selected from Denver Kids, Inc., an established mentorship program that in 2016 marks 70 years of helping at-risk kids navigate their way through school and life. Youth With a Future needed great kids to start with, and executive director, Dr. Robert Fomer knew they could be found in the program where his wife, Dr. Margaret Fomer was a past executive director.
In the five-week program, students learned about values, ethics, making the right choices and working in the real world. Part of the curriculum was to spend a week at the Cherry Creek Apple Store where techs taught them about technologies that can enhance careers and communication skills. If the students successfully complete the five weeks, they may keep an iPad mini that they have been using throughout the summer to complete their assignments. Seven students satisfactorily completed theprogram, and entered into paid internships with Youth with a Future, where they were paid $100 every two weeks.
Dr. Bob, as he is affectionately and respectfully called, knows the value of technology to these kid’s futures, and leverages it in facilitating the communication for the classes. Three out of every four African-American teens use a mobile device as their primary access to the web.
“They didn’t know each other,” explained Natalie Allan, lead creative at the Cherry Creek Apple Store and Manual High School alumni. “It allowed them to start opening up to their peers. They also got to explore some of their goals and how to pursue their goals in the sense of one student who wants to be a microbiologist to create her presentation on what she would need to do in her own life. I think we played a small part in giving her tools to discover what that story was – being able to see the kids transform over the week, exploring where they are, where they are going to be, and how to get there, and being able to express that.”
To start participants are given the rules of engagement and challenged to embrace eight core values.
•Friendship with a Mentor
•Passion for Purpose and People
•Culturally Relevant Communication
•Multiplication of Leaders
•Family Values as a Priority
•Commitment to Integrity
These core values are discussed and facilitated through programming, workbooks, and film illustrating the value.Afterwards they discussed how the clip relates to their value topic. Throughout the program, students used their iPads to complete relevant research and assignments.
During the week at the Apple Store, participants capped off their experiences with presentations on their iPads on which they began to map their futures. Each student was tasked with completing four slides in their talk:
•My past and what got me here
•Stepson reaching goal
•What my reality will look like in fiveyears.
The young people in Youth With a Future have big dreams, but without the toolbox to reach them, they may not be fulfilled. After the last day at the Apple store, they adjourned to the Oleta Crain Enrichment Center, 2102 Marion St., for their final session on core values and integrity. After lunch and a round of musical chairs, they settled into discussions about their experiences in which they showed integrity and instances where they did not. They ranged from owning up to damaging or returningpersonal lost property to shoplifting and food fights.
Eventually the group fleshed out their working definition of integrity as “Doing the right thing when no one is looking.” Dr. Bob re-focused the students on a recent field trip to the courtroom of Judge Wiley Daniel. A young man was on trial for possession of a firearm, and the judge asked him five times, “What would you do better?” Dr. Bob’s re-iterated Daniel’s point, “What do you do in 10 seconds?” What decisions do you make? Those decisions can change a life.”
This program is intended to change lives with new perspectives on opportunities and choices. Young people have more disparate challenges today, and the school to prison pipeline affecting African-Americans is real in many neighborhoods and families. New visions and outlooks are necessary to break the cycle. Youth With a Future allows students to map their own course, with the aid of their iPads. Their workbooks as iBooks allow them to interact and keep on track of their goals and map their futures.
As interns for the summer, these students helped build a new website, created a magazine illustrating their experiences, and blogged for the program. Dr. Bob invoked sprinter Marion Jones when he addressed them about their responsibilities for roles for what was ahead. “We can accomplish what we can accomplish, but we must play by the rules.”
Those students who completed the program received their iPads at the last session at the Issachar Center for Urban Leadership, 1220 E. 24th Ave., in the Whittier neighborhood. Guest speakers who gave them bearings for a brighter future included Dr. Will Miles, former sports clinical psychologist, University of Colorado Boulder, Patricia Raybon, award-winning author and Mary Louise Lee, entertainer and First Lady of Denver and.
Dr. Miles talked about working with CU’s football players who struggled to find respect during the Bill McCartney era. “Who you listen to, what you listen to is critical to who you become,” he told the students. He related an old African saying, “I AM because we ARE therefore I AM.” His point – no one makes it on their own. “The better I do, the better we feel.”
Raybon urged the students in this 24/7 news world, to step back and have the truth and courage to tell another story. “We have the right to speak our story,” she said. “I am African-American, but I am a lot of other things. Respect comes from the Latin root to look again.”
The students respond differently to what is told to them, but no one could argue with Mary Louise Lee as she awed the participants with an acapella version of “Believe in Yourself” from the Wiz. “Don’t let anyone take your joy away,” Lee said. WhenNeeliah asked her for advice about a singing career, she told her, “Don’t limit yourself. Know the whole spectrum, learn all aspects.”
This advice given by these elders, mentors, experts and shining examples in their fields will long resonate with these young people. Youth With a Future demonstrates what is possible with sorely needed educational enrichment programs that will help and develop young leaders.
Dr. Bob makes this program work, with four Denver-based program workshop facilitators, while commuting back and forth from Dallas to Denver, and Skyping when needed. He says “there is an interest in developing a model and partnership with other corporations on a national level.”.
Editor’s note: For more information or to support Youth With a Future, visit www.ywfleaders.com.