What Happens When You Give At-Risk Teens the Chance to Lead? Lives Change

Posted on August 10, 2017

In the nonprofit space, youth development is a widespread practice as a way to give kids the tools and support to break out of the cycle of poverty. But, a blind-spot exists in how we address youth development and mentorship: In the United States, we often devote most of our efforts and resources to the children with the greatest need who require the most support, many times neglecting the children in the middle of the need-spectrum with the greatest potential for impact.

Forty-four percent of American children live in low-income families—that is, families whose incomes fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty line—and though these children possess immense talent and drive, they are desperate for a real connection. These are the kids who can easily slip through the cracks, but who, with the right support and resources, have immense potential to transform their lives.

Without access to supportive programs and services, they are left more vulnerable to the influence of gangs and drug dealers rather than sports teams, choirs, and other character-building extra-curricular activities. Indeed, children who are not enrolled in after-school programs are 50 percent more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Helping these kids who are “lost in the middle” is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty.

A New City Approach

Founded in 1994 by Reverend Trevor Rubingh, New City Kids offers an innovative model to help children “lost in the middle” realize their full potential and give them the tools to participate in, and contribute to, their communities in a meaningful and fulfilling way. With five after-school centers in Michigan and New Jersey serving more than 450 kids per day, New City Kids provides leadership, music education, college readiness, and spiritual development programs to foster hope, encouragement, and responsibility in youth to transform their lives. The unique program model leverages a teen’s desire to lead in serving younger children looking for guidance.

Rather than traditionally relying on adult volunteers or staff, New City Kids’ program model taps into the innate leadership skills of their teen interns to serve others. Teens have the opportunity for internships, where they take responsibility and ownership over programs for children. The model ensures that teens mentoring younger children gain confidence in their leadership skills, and children develop fulfilling relationships with their mentors in a safe, creative, and enjoyable environment after school. It’s truly a program that belongs to kids, creating a symbiotic relationship that fosters self-transformation.

For example, Quantasia, a teen mentor, first came to NCK in her sixth-grade year. Her experience being mentored and later, becoming a mentor, was a game-changer.

“It was a different ballgame. I started to have more friends, I was eager to learn all my states, and I was so proud of myself because I never did that before. God was there for me. He sent someone to be there for me. He sent New City.”

A Model That Makes A Difference

Education is central to the programs and services at New City Kids. All students participate in a year-long math, grammar, and geography curriculum designed to reinforce learning that is taking place at school. Children can also take voice lessons and learn an instrument—from drums to bass guitar and piano—throughout the duration of the year, entering competitions and participating in showcase performances. Kickboxing, photography, drama, and dance lessons are also available.

The “college bound culture” at New City Kids begins at age six, and children in after-school programs join a team named after a college to emphasize one of the ultimate goals of the program. Each month, alumni visit to share the story of their success through New City Kids.

New City Kids’ paid teen interns, in addition to mentoring younger students through the challenges and rigor of early education, are trained in leadership development, work as tutors, and leading music and activity classes eight to twelve hours a week. In addition to receiving extensive one-on-one coaching and support, interns also attend classes, such as job and life skills training, and take a college preparation course.

The opportunity and responsibility to lead others can be truly transformative for youth. New City Kids holds teen staff to academic standards, helping prepare them for success post-high school. What is more, 100 percent of teen interns have entered college in the past eight years, and 90 percent of them have finished or are still in college – a graduation rate 10 times greater than the national average for low-income students. Compare this to the Jersey City rate, where 33 percent of local teens drop out of high school, and 51 percent do not attend college, a rate that only worsens for teens in low-income families. New City Kids provides a safe, constructive environment for youth with real potential to make the most of their educational prospects.

At New City Kids, kids and their teen mentors are given the tools to develop their skills, talents, and desires to achieve success in the future, setting them on a path of transformation that they will use for the rest of their lives. And, one day, they’ll return to tell their stories.

New City Kids is a 2017 S+ Catalyst. Through participation in the Catalyst Program, New City Kids receives training from industry experts in organizational development, branding, measurement and growth, and strategic relationships to amplify their impact and strategically expand their reach.