YMCA Teen Achievers urged to dream big
By Denise M. Baran-Unland For The Herald-News June 22, 2011 11:30AM
Joliet Central City YMCA Teen Achievers meet with Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. | Submitted by the GREATER JOLIET AREA YMCA
Updated: September 29, 2011 12:55AM
Crystal Toran plans to be a pediatrician; fellow Joliet resident Stacy Shorty wants to be a probation officer.
Both college-bound teens and recent graduates of Joliet Township High Schools credit the Central City YMCA Teen Achievers program for their ambitions and goals.
Toran said the leaders helped the group stay motivated. Shorty said it should be mandatory for all high school students.
“This really opened my eyes and sparked my imagination,” Shorty said. “Every kid should have this opportunity. It gives them a drive for success instead of just going through high school to go through high school.”
Last month, 33 Teen Achievers took a three-day college road tour to Georgia and Alabama to visit eight historically black colleges and universities.
In addition, the students also heard Martin Luther King III speak at one of the schools.
“It was an experience I will never forget,” Shorty said. “I actually got to shake his hand. All though my life I’ve written essays on Martin Luther King Jr., and his son spoke just like him.”
His overall message still lingers with Toran. “He basically told us to keep God first in our lives and everything will work out the way it should,” Toran said.
The tour was just the extra push Veronica Lea’s son Shorty needed to keep him focused on his professional goals. “He’s a little scared about leaving home because he’s never stepped out of the box,” said Lea of Joliet, “but now he’s seen what’s out there.”
The YMCA Teen Achievers Program is a national academic/career program for high school youth to help them graduate from high school, gain entry into college, and become successful in their chosen careers.
Grads show program works
During the 90-minute weekly meetings, students may receive tutoring, mentoring, leadership development, career workshops, preparation for the SAT/ACT tests, information on financial aid and scholarships, and field trip to colleges and career fairs.
While any Joliet Township high school student may participate in the YMCA Teen Achievers program, the target group is socio-economically disadvantaged children from the Joliet Township high schools, where dropout rates are highest.
Since its inception in 2005, 47 Teen Achievers graduates have attended higher level education institutions. Now that 13 of them have graduated and initiated careers, some return to show their appreciation.
“Now that they’ve made it, they come back to talk to the kids and tell them that the program really works,” said Maurice Fears, Central City YMCA community outreach director. “You know it’s making an impact when kids also start telling their friends about it. Most of our students now come from referrals.”
Through Teen Achievers, Toran learned about the educational requirements for her college of choice — Loyola University in Chicago — how to apply for financial aid and scholarships, and learned ways to develop the necessary fortitude to reach her goal.
“I like working with children, so I want to come back here and help people in my community,” Toran said. “I always knew I wanted to go to Loyola, but they have tough standards, and I wasn’t confident I could meet them.”
In addition, through Teen Achievers, Toran gained valuable volunteer experience. For instance, Toran assisted Fears with the Central City YMCA’s basketball and cheerleading programs, which helped solidify Toran’s desire to serve her community.
Although Shorty will be attending Joliet Junior College in the fall, he’s set his sights on Morehouse College in Georgia as much for its culture as for its educational programs.
“The young men spoke with such eloquence; it triggered something in me,” Shorty said. “A lot of black men still have it rough; they’re looked down on from where they came from. I want to be a probation officer because a lot of these men just need a second chance.”