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Reading, writing, creating and changing young lives in Detroit’s Woodbridge Neighborhood

There are terrific things happening at the corner of Trumbull and Grand River. Kids from the Woodbridge neighborhood and others close by are learning to become entrepreneurs … do their homework and become good global citizens.

The place is the Barnabas Youth Opportunities Center where between 25 and 35 children, ages 7-17, come after school for the Worldwide Youth Entrepreneurship Program. The first words they hear when they walk in the door are “Do you have homework? Go sit down and get it done. Do you need help?” I was a witness. These kids head right for a table and get out the books.

High school friends Ryan Wyche, 25, and Byron Parks, 24, started the program to help transform the lives of at risk children in some of Detroit’s challenged areas by showing them positive role models, teaching them to be innovative and creative thinkers and giving them a sense of purpose in themselves and in their neighborhoods.

“Woodbridge is one of the hurting communities,” says Ryan. “Lots of families are barely making it. We want to help teach these young people to succeed in the world and learn the value of the global marketplace.”

Homework comes first

The stats are overwhelming. In the area they targeted there are about 3,300 children between the ages of 0-19, according to zipskinny.com. Furthermore, 10 percent of the adults are unemployed, 30 percent live at or near the poverty level and 1,954 households are single parent homes. These kids need a boost up. Ryan and Byron wanted to give it to them but needed a place to house their program.

Enter Stanley Edwards, co-founder and executive director of the Barnabas Center, who opened that building to them. Their vision fit perfectly with the Center’s … “encourage and promote development of youth … create positive, meaningful work, learning and recreational opportunities … provide a positive image and service, which leads to the development of strong social and individual responsibility as a deterrent and alternative to crime, substance abuse and destructive behavior.”

Their focus on education and homework is already paying off. In one case their mentoring helped a student jump from second grade reading to fifth grade reading capability since last September. Besides increasing their learning skills these children are part of the Worldwide Youth Entrepreneurship Program. It’s like a mini-Junior Achievement or 4-H program. In the back shop they build make wooden book cases, work benches, signs and typewriter desks with an optional computer cabinet, which may be ordered. All are for sale. Their work is outstanding.

Ryan and Byron are driven by a passion for volunteering. Ryan told me in his case it was instilled as a child. At seven his mom took him with her to work at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen … he’s never stopped volunteering. He went to Eastern Michigan University to study to be an entertainment lawyer … a career that offers big bucks … but as he worked toward that goal he realized his calling was to be in the community, giving back.

“I am changing 40 kids’ lives every day,” he says. “I want to make sure each and everyone goes on to college.”

Dominic Lane, a well-spoken 15-year-old, says he’s been coming to the Center “all my life.” His mom is a friend of Stanley’s and he was one of the first students. He wants to pursue a career in culinary arts. Lakia Torbert, 11, comes to the Center with her brother and two sisters. She wants to be a chef or a writer but first she’d like to learn to dance. Her dream is to have a dance studio at the Center.

There’s a place for that. The building has a wonderful upstairs. It just needs a little renovation. Stanley, Ryan and Byron have been working on it with other volunteers.

Ryan is keen on making sure the students he is mentoring have the same commitment.  This past Christmas they launched their first annual Christmas Wishes for Kids fundraising event to help fulfill the wishes of children whose parents cannot make those wishes come true. They wrapped 250 donated gifts for 57 families.

“Kids need to see what it means to give back,” Ryan says. “I want to plant that seed just like my mom did.”

They do all this all on a shoestring … without federal dollars. Everything is done through fundraisers or donations from computers to food to games and so on. The games and computers are getting old. They also need a van. About 15 kids want to be part of the program but they don’t have transportation. If you have something you’d like to donate please reach out to Ryan at 313-831-4488. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter@WorldwideYouth.

Pictures by Karpov the Wrecked Train

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2 comments on “Reading, writing, creating and changing young lives in Detroit’s Woodbridge Neighborhood

  1. This is an outstanding article. I pray these young men will have great success and that the funding community will see the true value of their work. They need our support.

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