NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Nashville non-profit hosts an 8-week program to help teens set their lives back on track and steer them away from a lifestyle that could send them to jail starting Saturday.
"Be About Change," a Nashville non-profit, aims to serve kids in Nashville ages 12 to 19.
"We reach out to youth in the community who either are coming from homes that may not be the best homes in the world or they may be in the court systems and juvenile court. And so, we take our... as our main goal is to be that part of the community and actually give these kids some type of positive, like, examples and give them life skills, they may not be learning in the community or in school," explained Be About Change Executive Committee Member Stephon Strode.
Be About Change's 8-week program is called Project LEAD, which Strode, the program coordinator, explained gives kids the opportunity to participate in a classroom setting with workouts and speakers from the community all with a goal of building confidence.
"Of all the kids that come to our program only 8% actually ended up back in the court system," stated Strode. "The rest of them actually go out, they... get themselves together for school, they do better in school, they start attending school regularly they actually end up going to, you know, community college or go to a four year college after high school."
"A lot of the kids we're dealing with... they're not going to school regularly... We've had kids that run around like kind of, you know, doing drugs... with other kids, running away from home," explained Strode. "There's a lot of kids who kind of just come from those types of scenarios where they're obviously looking for something to kind of fulfill something that they need, and so they kind of act out, and they don't really know how to handle stress from school, especially with the pandemic."
The program has grown for eight years, serving up to 40 kids per-session. Some of the participants are referred by the Davidson County Juvenile Court, by someone they know or even by their parents.
Eighth-grader Keion Majors was referred by his mother Teri Rogers.
"He was having issues at school with behavior-wise," explained Rogers, who said before the program she received a call from her son's school almost daily with a problem.
"Old me, I used to, I used to not want to go to school. I used destroy people's property, get suspended and all that, hid, not fighting but like disrupting classrooms, bullying," admitted Keion.
After 8 weeks in the Project LEAD program at Hadley Park during the 2021 Summer, his mother said she saw a drastic change in her son.
"Now I don't get any phone calls about his behavior at all," she said. "That was one of the main things and I remember Keion telling me, 'That was the Old Keion this is the New Keion.' So even just that alone is like 'okay.' You know, I seen that change just within those couple of weeks. And it's amazing that they can, you know, someone can just come in and take someone out, take a kid under their wing and just change their whole mind frame and how they think."
"I went and I had fun, we just was working out, and I met some friends, and they taught me about a lot of that I never knew," said Keion. "You'll learn things you don't, if you go on Google, you won't even learn like, you will learn a lot about this place and you'll feel way better after you leave here."
Keion said he really liked the speakers and the leaders of the program, "I really was trying to like be like them, but, like, in my own way, be like them and... be successful."
For the Fall 2021 Project LEAD program, the Davidson County Young Democrats and Nashville Young Republicans are joining with the non-profit leaders to staff the 8-weeks and to provide speakers about government structure.
"Whether you're Democrat or Republican is all about helping kids at the end of the day," said Strode. "We're kind of bringing in more governmental type of situation, so that the kids can kind of understand that more because, as I mentioned, they're in the court system, they probably need to understand what kind of environment they're in better than what they do right now, because a lot of them just don't understand it."
The Davidson County Young Democrats said,"We're thrilled to collaborate with our counterparts for this necessary mentorship program. Be About Change's mission is one that we think everyone should get behind and if our organizations can show a sign of unity in the process, it's a win-win. Positive community connections for youth = higher potential for positive outcomes."
The Nashville Young Republicans echoed their sentiments saying they are "committed to serving our community and working to find lasting solutions to make Nashville a better place to live and prosper. Having known Be About Change founder Marcel Hernandez for a couple of years, we see the incredible work their organization is doing in Nashville. While issues of education and methods for reforming our juvenile justice system often get polarizing, the results that Be About Change and their partner organizations have produced: 8% of youth returning to the juvenile system and significant increases in educational outcomes through their mentorship programs, show that they are narrowing this gap on a bipartisan level. While we may duke it out in the election season with our counterparts, the Davidson County Young Democrats, we are proud to join them to serve a bigger purpose, our youth in Nashville.”
Strode said, "We want them to just really just have a great life after adolescence, be really just amazing adults in the community and, you know what, that's our main goal is to send them out to the community to make change and to actually just be the great individual you know what it can be."