Get to know the Alliance: throughout the year, we will be featuring NAZA’s partners and the work that they do in our community.
The 2022-2023 school year has been a year of significant growth for Aspiring Youth Enrichment Services (AYES). Last year, they served 52 youths from H.G. Hill Middle School in their afterschool program and 54 in their summer program. This year, they were able to launch 2 new program sites at Pruitt Library and Jere Baxter Middle School, thanks to NAZA funding.
AYES Founder & Executive Director LaDonna Harris first got involved with NAZA working as a Site Coordinator at the YMCA in 2013. Harris also ran a daycare, but when the kids aged out of the program when they turned 12, she noticed there was nowhere for them to go after school. After researching different organizations, she wasn’t able to find one that served the youth in her neighborhood – so she made her own. Since its founding in 2014, AYES has impacted more than 100 families.
“Our mission is to provide educational programs which teach the underserved youth to obtain the skills necessary for becoming financially self-sufficient, by using a holistic and comprehensive approach in helping the youth and their families. We are bridging the gap between home, school, and the real world. There is an urgent need to teach our community how to become the village which raises our children.” – AYES Mission Statement
AYES’ afterschool and summer programs focus on learning in STEAM fields, financial literacy, and agriculture. When asked what their favorite thing about the program is, students had a lot to say: doing science projects, learning about history, playing basketball, making new friends, and learning how to make money were among the responses.
“I have nothing to do at home and it’s kinda lonely, so then I come here and I enjoy my time here.” – Youth participant
“You learn and then like you have fun at the same time.” – Youth participant
Just as important, the AYES programs help youth develop social skills, emotional well-being, and other life skills to support them in school and in post-secondary/career choices and to prepare them to thrive in life. Harris notes that one of the things that she is most proud of is seeing children who used to argue and bully each other work out their differences and communicate without needing adult intervention.
“My son has Asperger’s and struggles with being with new people. The NAZA volunteers made him feel like he was a kid without a diagnosis. I watched my son come out of his shell, make friends, and succeed where others would count him out.” – Charrice W., Parent
The approach is popular with youth: a survey of last year’s summer program participants revealed that 88% would recommend the program to a friend. Eighty-two percent of respondents said they improved their social competencies, including getting along with others and making better decisions, and 74% said that being in the program made them want to try harder in school. “The kids are proud of themselves,” says Harris. “They take the knowledge and skills learned here and apply it to real life.”