Before she began spending time at the YWCA St. Paul, Nena struggled with how to spend her time in a productive way that would build a bright future for herself.
“They introduced me to a whole bunch of activities,” she says of the YWCA. “With them I got my first job, I got to see colleges and they’ve given me all these skills that I can put on my resume.”
Nena quickly became involved in the YWCA’s opportunities to connect with other young people and to make a difference in her community. She also flourished when it came to defining her educational goals and took advantage of exposure to employment and career opportunities for the future.
Now as a junior at Central High School, Nena’s busy schedule includes taking classes four days a week at St. Paul College as well as participating in her school’s Speech Club, a book club that she created, tutoring, student council, an after-school job and community service.
At the YWCA St. Paul, Nena also participates in the Young Women’s Initiative, a program launched by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota in partnership with the Governor’s Office to address disparities that young women experience across the state of Minnesota.
“I want to live a life that’s an example for younger kids,” she says of what she’s learned through the Young Women’s Initiative and the YWCA.
As Tamika sat in the audience, she was nervous. School had never come easy for her son and although he was working hard to improve his behavior and academics, she was accustomed to hearing more negatives than positives. As staff called each child to the front of the room her anxiety grew.
Name after name was called … but never her son’s. When she nervously leaned over to ask her mother what might have gone wrong, she got an unexpected answer. “Nothing’s wrong Tamika — they just save the best for last!”
Grandma was exactly right. Staff saved Jaiceon for last because his achievements during the Youth Achievers Program’s (YAP) summer program were so phenomenal. During the ten-week summer session, his reading improved by four grade levels and for the first time in his life, he was academically ahead of his peers!
Tamika is excited that Jaiceon will begin the third grade reading at a sixth grade level and couldn’t be more proud of his hard work. “I love this program,” she explains. “He’s having fun here, but he’s also learning and seeing that it’s cool to do something positive. I see him changing and I’m just so proud of him!”
Project VOICE, a collaborative community effort made it possible to offer NdCad’s Sankofa Reading Program to youth enrolled in YAP. The tutoringadded an important academic boost to a busy summer of activities, field trips and experiences designed to help youth succeed and grow.
Maryam lives with her parents and three younger siblings in an apartment just a few blocks away from YWCA St. Paul, but before coming to her first Youth IMPACT event at age 14, she thought it was just a place where people worked out.
Now, 18-year-old Maryam works in YWCA St. Paul Health & Fitness Center’s Kids Care, where gym members can drop their children off while they work out. She earned that job through the skills and connections she made through her consistent attendance of YWCA St. Paul Youth IMPACT programs.
In addition to her job in Kids Care, Maryam attends Central High School, takes classes at St. Paul College, has an internship and teaches at her mosque. The professional skills she’s learned in the last four years—like time management—benefit the ambitious high school senior now and will help her continue to be successful in the future.
The Youth program’s two components—youth employment and young women’s empowerment—have set Maryam on a path different from anyone else in her family. Growing up in Ethiopia, Maryam’s mother was not allowed to go to school past fourth grade. She has encouraged Maryam to take advantage of the opportunities available right up the street from their apartment, and pushed her to keep attending for her entire high school career.
“My mother has been a big support for me,” Maryam said. “I want to go to college for myself first, and for my mother as well—for her to know I’m trying to get to a point where she hasn’t gotten to.”
Maryam’s hard work has paid off; she was accepted to several colleges, and will attend Augsburg College this fall.
“I would say she’s definitely more outspoken,” La’Shante Grigsby, YWCA St. Paul Youth Support Specialist, said. “She’s very resourceful. She’s a leader. I’m really excited to see what’s next for Maryam.”
When Shay was 10 she witnessed the murder of her mother, father and sister. Reeling from the trauma and grieving the loss of her family, she went to live with a relative. The next few years were challenging and Shay felt herself getting off-track.
“I guess you could say I went out of control,” she remembers. “I started sneaking out of the house. I was going to parties. I was drinking. It was just a really bad situation.” Struggling to find her footing, she spent several years moving between group homes and foster care.
With encouragement from her social worker, Shay came to the YWCA and enrolled in the IMPACT Program. Through IMPACT, she’s gained paid work experience and so much more. “I’ve met awesome people here,” Shay says. “The YW has given me a lot of opportunities to learn and grow.”
Working as a program aide in the YWCA Youth Achievers Program (YAP) Shay discovered a passion for youth work. Whether assisting with homework, providing encouragement when someone is having a rough day or helping kids to try new things, Shay loves her work and thinks it may be her calling. “I want to help youth grow up and get the help they need,” she explains.
Having attended 10 schools over the course of 12 years, Shay is proud to have graduated from high school on-time. She recently completed her first year of college, and is looking forward to discovering what’s next. “I was stuck in misery for a long time,” she says. “Now I’m out of it and I’m loving my life.”
Struggling at school with academics and behavior, Quintin was referred to the YWCA St. Paul for tutoring. After learning more about challenges he was facing at home and at school, staff encouraged Quintin’s mom, LaVera, to enroll him in the Youth Achievers Program (YAP). Quintin joined the program lacking confidence, and when tested, he scored only 30 percent on academic pre-assessments.
As the weeks rolled by, Quintin’s confidence and academic skills grew. Halfway through the year, he was assessed again, and the improvements were remarkable. This time, he scored 93 percent. “I’m proud of him,” says LaVera. “I just want him to strive to be what he wants to be and what he wants to grow up and do.”
Quintin’s achievements are doing more than positively impacting him — they’re also influencing his younger brother, Jeremiah. Seeing his brother strive to do well and receive recognition for his accomplishments is motivating him to do the same.
Equipped with the talent to go far, Khalique needed extra support to help realize his potential. At the YWCA, he found a team of people who helped him to chart a positive course for high school and beyond.
As a participant in the IMPACT program, Khalique explored post-secondary options, developed his leadership skills and gained paid work experience. “The YWCA has helped me to become a good young man, stay on the right track and actually want to do something with myself,” he explains.
Recently, Khalique put his leadership skills to use at Jackson Elementary. Working part-time in the afterschool enrichment program, he helped lead fitness-focused activities and offered homework assistance to low-income students in grades K-3.
With ongoing encouragement and support from IMPACT, Khalique is working to complete his final credits of high school and plans to attend Inver Hills Community College.
At age 13, Armani was very smart, but she was spending time with the wrong crowd. “I was exposed to people making bad choices, and I was making those bad choices with them,” she explained. She knew something had to change or her future would be at stake.
Soon, Armani started making positive changes. She got involved in activities and programs such as IMPACT, where she found the support she needed to get on track. In IMPACT, Armani received college preparation help and participated in ACT study sessions. Most importantly, Armani built connections with other teens determined to make good choices. “Going to jail isn’t a big deal for a lot of my peers, but I don’t surround myself with people who are a bad influence anymore,” she said.
Armani graduated from high school in 2012 after serving as a member of her school’s National Honor Society, vice president of the student council and captain of the math team. Today, she is studying at the University of Minnesota and plans to pursue a degree in International Business and Entrepreneurial Management.
At 15, Rakeem was in crisis. Battling the effects of early childhood trauma, years in foster care and a dissolved adoption, he faced a return to the foster care system. His life changed when he was reunited with his biological brother and welcomed into his home.
Together, they began the work of helping Rakeem to stabilize his life and chart a course for the future. At the YWCA St. Paul, they found a community who not only believed in Rakeem’s potential, but was ready to help him meet his goals.
Participating in the IMPACT program has helped Rakeem to create new friendships, learn new skills, and explore options for his future. Looking back, he’s proud of the changes he’s made and thankful IMPACT has helped him to stay in school and on a positive path. “I swear, I was a hot mess,” he explains. “The young man [I am] now is less vulnerable and less angry, and more in control.”
Currently a senior in high school, Rakeem is looking forward to graduation. As he transitions to adulthood, he knows the YWCA will be there to help him navigate. “You know me,” he says. “I’m not perfect at anything yet but I’m working towards it.”