116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Controlled chaos reigns as middle school students defend their side during a game of “this or that” at the CR Dreams afternoon summer program, where they learn leadership skills, set goals and build a plan toward making them come true.
Students argued low-stakes points of view in debates of chocolate or vanilla ice cream, mornings or nights and reading vs. watching TV. In doing so, they’re learning how to communicate more effectively, debate in a healthy way and take turns talking.
“We struggle with it sometimes,” Callie Brown, 19, a coach with Leaders Believers Achievers, said with a smile.
This is the second year that CR Dreams, organized by the Cedar Rapids-based Leaders Believers Achievers Foundation, has operated its seven-week summer program. There are 60 students enrolled in the program, which ends Friday.
Overall, the Leaders Believers Achievers Foundation mentors 600 teenagers in the Cedar Rapids Community School District through in-school, after-school and online programs. The foundation’s executive director, Al O’Bannon — a certified school counseling leadership specialist — said he wants to help children see their value.
Brown, who graduated from Prairie High School in 2021, participated in the program when she was a student. Joining Leaders Believers Achievers as a coach this summer was the “perfect opportunity” to be a mentor to younger students, something she’s always been interested in, Brown said.
She walks students through daily affirmations. They randomly draw Popsicle sticks that have affirmative words on them such as strong, compassionate and smart — then talk about what the words mean and how they embody them.
As a student in Leaders Believers Achievers, Brown said she learned the importance of sharing her story, including her goals.
“You don’t walk around telling everyone your dreams, but (O’Bannon) teaches us to do that,” Brown said. “When I started doing that, he overheard me and happened to know someone who knew someone with a job opening that was the perfect opportunity for me. Share your story because you never know who is listening.”
Brown is starting at the University of Iowa’s cardiac sonographer program in August. She’ll be trained to use imaging technology to help physicians diagnose heart problems in patients. Thanks to O’Bannon’s connections, Brown works at UnityPoint-Health-St. Luke’s hospital as a radiology transporter, which is giving her experience in patient care.
Like Brown, current students in the Leaders Believers Achievers summer program have big goals.
One student shared with O’Bannon that he wants to be a professional basketball player in the NBA. While O’Bannon encourages that goal, he also wants students to see the other opportunities that are out there for them.
For example, the NBA is a business. “You don’t have to be a player. You could be a scout, referee, work in the business department, there are all these opportunities they don’t see,” O’Bannon said.
The program also teaches students that taking their education seriously will impact their future dreams and goals. Most students said they are excited for the coming school year, including continuing their math and science classes.
Braylen Millhouse, 18, a rising eighth-grader at Taft Middle School, wants to be a chef someday. He enjoys cooking for his family, especially chicken sandwiches and chicken wings.
He’s learning about the opportunities his school offers that can help him achieve his goal. Those include a consumer science class that can teach him how to make other types of dishes such as smoothies, pizza and omelets, Braylen said.
Soulaya Viverette, 12, a rising seventh-grader at Harding Middle School, is learning to be a leader. “My mom tells me I’m a leader at home” with her eight siblings, Soulaya said. She wants to be a prosecuting attorney some day — mostly so she can learn how to argue better than her brothers.
Karma Walter, 12, a rising seventh-grader at Roosevelt, wants to be a doctor or a surgeon because she “likes to help people.”
Damarion Walter, 13, a rising eighth-grader at Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy, wants to play for the NFL someday or be a music artist, specifically a rapper. He loves Leaders Believers Achievers for the “100 percent positive” environment.
Amanda Beckett, 17, is a coach with Leaders Believers Achievers and a rising senior at Jefferson High School. She said students are learning that continuing education is possible for them and can be affordable with scholarships and grants.
“You’re not alone,” Beckett said. “We tell them that all the time.”
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