Volunteer Kierra Sandridge, 16, helps brothers Camarr Burton, left, 6, and Christian Burton, 8, with clay. The boys are among 60 youth in the six-week ‘Summer Extravaganza’ by JLJ Vision Outreach Inc., a subsidiary of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.
He’s been picked on and bullied for most of his life.
This summer Kesaun Coleman, 15, of Toledo learned how to better control his temper and defuse confrontational situations.
He’s become so good at it, his goal now is “to become a lawyer who defends people in trouble for things they didn’t do.”
Samaiya Mixon, 11, of Toledo, never could read very well.
It caused her to withdraw from people; and become quiet and shy, lacking in self-esteem and confidence.
During the last three years Samaiya not only became an outstanding reader, she’s discovered skills that she never realized she possessed.
The moment of truth came two years ago when she finally overcame her fear of swimming and diving.
“The high dive is scary,” said Samaiya, who admits to keeping her eyes closed tightly the first time she dived. “But you have to face your fears and I did it.
“That’s when I realized I can accomplish anything if I work hard and set my mind to it.”
The two are among 60 central-city youths participating in “Summer Extravaganza,” a six-week program for youths ages 5-16. The free program is offered through JLJ Vision Outreach Inc., a subsidiary of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.
Teacher Kayla Lindsey of Washington, D.C., holding the ball, answers a question from Heaven Mixon, 7, right, of Toledo at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. The JLJ program helps students academically and with reaching their potential.
The goal is to provide children with opportunities to better understand their potential by helping them improve academically, expose them to new opportunities and ideas, and assist them with character development, said Keith Jordan, Sr., JLJ’s vice president/director of development.
Or, as Jazz legend Nina Simone once sang in one of her most famous songs, the students are learning what it's like “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.”
“The whole focus of the program is about getting these younger people to work on themselves,” said Mr. Jordan, who founded the program in 2003. “Sometimes all they need is a push.”
The acronym JLJ stands for Juveniles Living Justly. JLJ employs five paid employees, in addition to Mr. Jordan.
The nonprofit organization relies on the help of community volunteers and private donations to operate.
In addition to Summer Extravaganza, JLJ offers several other programs, including a year-around mentoring for at-risk youth.
The concept for the summer program was created in 1997 by Mr. Jordan’s father, the Rev. Jimmy Jordan of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. Pastor Jordan created a program to feed children in the community after noticing many seemed undernourished.
Hunger and health seemed to be the cause of a lot of their problems, he said. When students are hungry, they can’t concentrate at school, and if they don’t feel well they are more prone to be in bad moods and get into trouble. The program grew from 50 to 300 in just three years, he said.
The church eventually partnered its food program with the YMCA and Keith Jordan restructured JLJ programming so that it focused on academics and character building.
Two of the biggest challenges the youths face are self-esteem and self-worth, he said. Many already have been told that they’re destined to be failures — involved in gangs and drugs, incarcerated, lacking in education, relying on public assistance, a burden on society.
“Oftentimes people live up to expectations set up for them,” said Mr. Jordan, 40, who knows this by experience. “I was raised in the north end, the Stickney Avenue area.
Camarr Burton, 6, concentrates on a clay sculpture at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.
“And so I was immediately labeled a bad kid, trouble. What I’ve learned though is it’s not where you are that defines who you are, it’s what’s in your heart that defines who you are.
“That’s what we’re trying to do here. I’m not trying to change someone’s life; I’m trying to help give them a chance.”
Summer Extravaganza provides tutoring for students who are struggling academically, offers field trips that expose students to new opportunities, and engages participants in activities that help build character development skills. All activities and services are free.
Parents of children who participate in the summer program must “pay” by volunteering a couple of hours, for example: by chaperoning a field trip or helping with an activity.
“It really does take a whole village to raise a child,” said Stayce Fowler, a JLJ board member who has been with the program since the beginning. Ms. Fowler, 49, of Toledo works for Owens-Illinois Inc., which helps fund the program.
“That’s why I’m involved. I believe we have a responsibility to give back to the community. This program helps children succeed.”
Kierra Sandridge, a senior at Woodward High School, decided to serve as a volunteer mentor for the summer program this year after being a participant the last four years.
The staff and her mentors motivated her to do her best, said Kierra, 16, who will graduate a year earlier than most of her peers because she has been taking post-secondary classes at Owens Community College.
Returning as a mentor is a way of saying “thank you,” and passing on her knowledge, she said.
Contact Federico Martinez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.