Over the last few years, my husband Don and I have been actively involved in a local organization called Youth Life Foundation of Richmond. YLFR serves Richmond's North Side neighborhood by offering after school tutoring, mentoring, and activities to children in at-risk communities. Don and I have grown close to this organization and to these children, and for my husband this cause is especially near and dear. Currently, Don serves on the Board, we both participate in their after school mentoring program, and Maggie's Misc gives a portion of every sale to Youth Life.
Photo by: Taylor Bates Photography
YLFR was started in 2002 by Heather Goodlett and the first learning center was opened in 2003 with 10 students. Back before the organization first came to life, Heather noticed that there were pockets of kids that were hanging out on the streets after school. They had nothing productive to fill their time with and nowhere to go. A majority of them came from single income families, and over 90% of them had no predominate male role model in their lives. These kids were often getting into trouble and many were undereducated. The center was founded as a way to offer a safe place for kids to go after school and to provide them with supplemental educational resources and support in hopes of giving them a brighter future. Because of the impact of YLFR on the community, the organization has been blessed to watch some of these children become the first generation in their family to attend college. They currently have three learning centers that offer four different after school programs for kids K-12. Today, they serve around 50 families including over 70 children – and their growth only continues.
Don and I first heard about YLFR after our friends, Shedon and Taylor Bates (Taylor is now serving as the Chairman of the Board), invited some folks over to their house in the fall of 2013. The Bates live on the North Side, and had taken a special interest in the kids in their neighborhood and were pouring into their lives. They, along with Heather and her husband, Raymond, shared the background of the organization and the impact it had on these kids (and their families') lives. Shortly thereafter I started volunteering once a week on Thursday evenings as an elective teacher. I worked with the kids three different semesters over the next year teaching them arts & crafts and baking (I am NOT a baker so this class was....well interesting to say the least!). This past spring I switched to mentoring a child one-on-one (I discovered that teaching was definitely not my calling), and at this time, Don joined me. We have been working with a brother and sister of the last year and since that time Don has joined the board. The kids we work with come from an especially dysfunctional home life and because of their environment have some developmental issues. In addition, we have noticed the homework they bring in is sub par in terms of quality and quantity. In many ways, these kids are very disadvantaged circumstantially.
I understand having to overcome adversity based on environmental circumstances and Don understands having to overcome poverty. He is from South Florida and after the age of 10 he was raised in a single parent household with his mom working two jobs in order to support their family. His dad left his mom for another women when he was around 10, and around the age of 13 he was deported back to Haiti where he was originally from. Don hasn't heard from him since. His mom worked very hard to put Don in a private, Catholic school known for it's academic excellence. He graduated from high school with honors, went on to attend college, and then graduated with honors from law school. He pulled himself out of poverty based on his education and has said that some of his friends from the same neighborhood weren't so fortunate. He has often mentioned that had it not been for his mom and the amazing opportunity she provided him with school, it's hard to say where he would be. The school system in his neighborhood was not very good, and many kids in that environment will never be provided with educational opportunities. For many, poverty is all they will ever know.
Photos taken at last year's Christmas party by: Taylor Bates Photography.
Don is very passionate about this organization and believes wholeheartedly in its mission and what it is doing for these kids. Not only are they being provided support and love from the consistency of the staff, mentors, and teacher, but they are being taught about God and His love for them as well. YLFR is helping to show these children what their true identity is and what value they have in this world. Take it from someone who has been given a new identity, salvation, freedom - I can assure you, there is nothing so precious in all this world.
Today and tomorrow in Richmond we are celebrating the Amazing Raise. The Amazing Raise is our region's 36-hour online giving challenge that allows organizations to win additional incentive prizes ranging from $500 to $15,000! The competition is based on individual gifts and a gift of $50 or more anytime during the Amazing Raise will help Youth Life reach their goal of $17,200 in giving and prizes. This is the amount it takes to send two children to one of our Elementary Learning Centers and five youth to our LC Remix, Middle and High School Programs for an entire year! The Raise ends tomorrow at 6:00 pm. Please consider donating to this wonderful and sacrificial organization as any help with go toward providing more opportunities for more children. To give, click here. And even if you can't donate your money (I know how tight money can be), they are always looking for mentors and teachers to volunteer in the evenings. For more information on this, visit their website at: http://ylfr.org/ or to volunteer email: email@example.com.
Thanks so much for taking your time to read this. May you be blessed as you bless others.