Lexington’s “It Takes a Village” Summer Youth Program makes its own impact

WEKU | By Stu Johnson

It would probably be accurate to say many school-aged young people look forward to the summer months as a break from the rigors of schoolwork. For eight weeks this summer in Lexington, around 40 teenagers took part in the “It Takes a Village” Summer Youth Program.

The Summer Youth Program is under the direction of One Lexington. That’s an initiative out of the mayor’s office working to reduce youth violence. Devine Carama is the director of One Lexington. He said many of this summer’s participants have experienced gun violence.

“We’ve had young people in this group who’ve actually witnessed a loved one lose their life to gun violence. So, it’s been that close, all the way to young people whose houses may have been shot up or the house next door may have been shot up. And so, they’ve been impacted by gun violence in different ways,” said Carama

One Lexington Director Devine Carama
One Lexington Director Devine Carama (Stu Johnson)

Carama said it’s been about collectively wrapping arms around the young people. This summer featured something new, once-a-week trauma-related counseling, something the One Lexington director said was important. Summer Youth Program Director Tania Walker agrees it was very beneficial.

“It taught them about coping skills, life skills, and effective communication. Just really how to understand what you are going through and how to process it and not run from it. So, that was a great thing,” said Walker.

A session on the next to the last day of the summer program focused on financial literacy with Foundation 47 CEO Dale Morgan. Morgan said there are young people who take an interest in money management.

“A lot of them don’t, but surprisingly a lot of them do. A lot of them want to live a better life. And they know personal finances is an avenue for that life that they want,” said Morgan.

Morgan noted one of his main messages is, ‘Spend some now, save some for later.’ He added it can help young people get out of survival mode and into a flourishing or thriving mode.

Game playing during a break at the "It Takes a Village' Summer Youth Program
Game playing during a break at the “It Takes a Village’ Summer Youth Program (Stu Johnson)

Following the financial literacy session, the 13- to 17-year-olds were able to play a few big-screen video games before the achievement recognition program.

Young people gathered back in the auditorium for a closing session. On hand to help distribute packets was Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton.

“I believe in this. I believe in ‘it takes a village.’ I believe in the hard work you all have been doing this summer. And it will change your life in ways you might not even know or understand,” said Gorton.

In addition to the Mayor, One Lexington Director Devine Carama talked to the group about commitment. He said attendees have shown that this summer.

“But, you all have come back each and every week cause I think you are getting something out of it and so I appreciate your commitment. You got to commit to something. We talked about that session one. Stand for nothing you fall for anything, and you all make a commitment to this and we want to be able to reward you for that,” said Carama.

Camara recognized Tania Walker for her leadership in the program. He said she started as a volunteer two years ago and then got involved with a school-related program for young girls. She offered some advice to the participants.

“But, when you all are out on the streets and you’re mingling and you’re growing and you’re learning each other and you’re building new relationships…the one thing that I want you to ask yourself…You are old enough and have grown enough that you should be asking yourself..I heard this the other day and I loved it. Not what’s wrong with it..ask yourself what’s right with it. That’s how you find greatness in yourself,” said Walker.

Walker told the young people they never know who’s watching and who might extend a hand or olive branch to help change their lives. Saniya Harris is a returner to the Summer Youth Program. She was one who’s been affected by gun violence.

“They bring people to come talk to us about different things. Like today we learned about financial stuff and therapy, how to deal with trauma and I feel like all that helps me a lot,” said Harris.

Left to right-Za Champagne-Saniya Harris
Left to right-Za Champagne-Saniya Harris (Stu Johnson)

Za Champagne is 14 years old and a first time participant. He also mentioned the therapy sessions on trauma as important. And Champagne said the summer program has provided the opportunities to do new things and meet new people.

Director Walker said anywhere between 40 and 50 people attended each day. But, she noted more than 90 registered and she hopes it can be expanded next summer.

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Top photo by Stu Johnson for WEKU.

Republished with permission.