This June, Better Tomorrows’ Raleigh Annex, North Hill Manor, and Crestview Apartments communities in Mississippi wrapped up their year-long Aim High program funded by a $15,000 grant from New York Life Foundation to support at-risk male teens. The grant program was created to support the ability of local community-based afterschool and summer learning programs to provide the foundational skills and guidance that middle school students need to be prepared for the critical transition into high school.
Regional Assistant Director Bridgett Floyd developed the Aim High program to center around social-emotional learning: connecting the sites’ teen boys with mental health and community specialists, teaching them problem solving skills, better decision-making, and conflict resolution techniques.
After getting off to a rocky start due to COVID-19 protocols, the Aim High program with the help of Social Service Coordinators Sarah Simmons and Courtney Reed, finally held its first event in November 2022, hosting a total of 18 events in nine months. The program was a great success with the same 25 boys consistently attending the events.
“Our kids really need someone to show them that they actually care,” explained Floyd. Aim High concentrated on providing the boys a safe, reliable space where they could come together and express themselves.
On top of seeing the boys grow emotionally, Floyd feels one of the program’s most impactful aspects was being able to feed the attendees a catered meal at every event: sending them home with full stomachs and an extra plate for their family.
The ultimate reward for each of the 25 boys, all of whom fully embraced the program, attending all 18 events, was the gift of an iPad. The tablet stood as a physical reminder that hard work and consistency pays off in the end.
Better Tomorrows’ success drew the attention of the local mayor and representatives from Mississippi state government. The state had been working to develop a program to support their at-risk teen males, but had never reached Better Tomorrow’s level of success.
While the grant funding has come to an end, Floyd’s plan to teach the boys to “aim high” is nowhere near finished. “What I do is my passion and it’s not everyday you can work in your passion,” expressed Floyd. “[Aim High] was fuel for me.” The sites’ next program, “STEP,” is in the works with a goal to reach even more teens in surrounding apartment complexes.