Darnell Woodson registered with Kidz Express when he was 14 years old. Today, he is a mentor in the program and a graduate student of Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) He’s seen many donors and supporters tour their facility in Chicago’s South Austin neighborhood. So when he heard that the Wheat Ridge Board of Directors was coming to visit in June 2017, Woodson was excited to talk about the program and its impact on the community.
Kidz Express focuses on providing a continuum of care -paid mentors develop relationships with children in the program, building their self-esteem, and guiding them through academic and personal challenges. Mentors are “graduates” of Kidz Express, with personal experience with these challenges and strong ties to the community. Besides these important connections, the Kidz Express neighborhood youth community center provides children with a safe gathering space and a hot meal every day.
Board members met with Woodson and several other mentors to learn why the program works so well in an area known nationally more for its high crime and poverty rates than for its success stories. Board member Darron Lowe, St. Louis, Mo., was impressed with the program’s significant impact on participants. “It’s an opportunity for former participants to ‘pay-it forward’ and an opportunity for current participants to see the success on the other end of the program,” he says.
Thanks to donors like you, Wheat Ridge’s $50,000 grant is supporting Kidz Express in expanding to serve 200 kids a day by allowing them to hire twice as many mentors. Although Woodson often speaks about what the program means to him and South Austin’s children, he understands it may be hard to comprehend what Kidz Express means to the community.
“It’s hard to understand unless you’re embedded in the program like we are,” Woodson says. “If you’re willing to stick around for the long haul and see the progress the kids make from the day they first walk in to the day they leave or go off to high school or become a mentor-then you can really see the growth, the change.”
Woodson can’t imagine his life without Kidz Express, and he knows he was meant to return to do what people did for him when he was younger. Although he’s viewed as a success story, Woodson feels that he still has a lot of work to do. “During our conversation with the board members, they asked me how it feels to be a mentor, and I said I don’t really consider myself a mentor in the proper sense of the word,” Woodson says. “I consider myself a big brother, because I’m still working on myself. I don’t have all the answers.”
“What resonated through each of the young mentors we spoke with was the incredible hope they have for their present and future lives,” notes board member Kay Siebert, Phoenix, Ariz. “They have lived through unspeakably painful life experiences, but yet have such hope and are thriving, thanks to the love and support of the amazing Christ-centered leaders at Kidz Express.”
Lowe agrees, noting that the visit gave him hope about the programs and people who make a positive difference. “We should all be an agent of change to make our communities better for everyone,” he says.
Because of your support, Wheat Ridge is able to walk alongside impactful organizations like Kidz Express for the long term and help guide children in troubled communities toward a brighter future. Thank you!
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