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Cedar Rapids partners with local nonprofit to help at-risk youth achieve their dreams

Program connects youth with community mentors

Executive Director Al O'Bannon organizes a group of middle school students during the Leaders, Believers, and Achievers
Executive Director Al O'Bannon organizes a group of middle school students during the Leaders, Believers, and Achievers (L.B.A.) program at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A local nonprofit dedicated to fostering youth leadership started as an after-school basketball program and now will help students get a shot at achieving their dreams through a new city collaboration.

The Cedar Rapids City Council on Tuesday approved a two-year agreement starting this month through November 2022 to contribute $100,000 to support the Leaders Believers Achievers Foundation’s Cedar Rapids Outreach Program, a new partnership with local groups and agencies to connect at-risk youth and the community.

The program’s cost is budgeted around $75,000 annually, said Kerry Crowell, the organization’s strategic director. He told the council he hoped its support and the backing of community and business leaders would help it grow beyond its initial scope.

Cedar Rapids police Sgt. Laura Faircloth said the organization has been around since 2011 and now provides an array of services to help at-risk youth achieve their dreams.

The partnership with the city will help build bridges between youth and local law enforcement as well as the broader community, she said, introducing them to new people and opportunities they otherwise may not have been able to access.

“We know that there’s a saying that if you haven’t seen something, you can’t dream it,” Crowell said. “ ... Their vision of what’s available to them and what’s realistic for them in their future is very limited in scope, and oftentimes that’s because they haven’t had exposures to some great careers and opportunities.”

Crowell said a mobile app developed by the LBA Foundation will be used to connect youth with mentors such as law enforcement, business and municipal leaders. It will give them tasks and challenges, support and feedback to track their engagement with activities put forth in the program all tied to their own dreams, while helping the organization measure the program’s success and impact.

Students may then earn rewards tied to their participation in the program, including gift cards to local and national businesses, movie and sporting events tickets and more.

The city Parks and Recreation Department and the Police Department will partner with the foundation to host four events and coordinate activities throughout the yearlong program, according to the proposal.

“By going throughout Cedar Rapids, we’re going to be able to share with them some different businesses, different careers, different jobs and roles, and open their eyes to some different opportunities and hopefully instill in them a belief that there are great opportunities for them moving forward,” Crowell said. “And we’re going to help them create a road map for them to get from today to one of these opportunities that perhaps they never even knew was available.”

Al O’Bannon, the nonprofit’s executive director, said the organization serves more than 350 youth, helping them with academics, health and wellness, leadership and financial literacy.

“Those things we thought kids were going to run away from, they actually ran to,” O’Bannon said. “Kids weren’t dreaming anymore. We asked kids, ‘What do you dream about?’ ... Their faces just went blank when we were asking those questions.”

O’Bannon, who was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, said there have been seven deaths to gun violence among Leaders Believers Achievers kids over the years. He wanted to let disillusioned youth know of alternatives to be successful in life.

Council member Dale Todd, who leads the council’s Youth Services and Public Safety Committee, said this partnership will fill a gap in recreational programming and in opportunities for youth to build relationships with local law enforcement.

He pointed to another new partnership with Des Moines-based nonprofit Urban Dreams to expand workforce training and career opportunities to underserved populations as a way the city is thinking differently about providing programming to those who historically fall through the gaps.

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“We’re starting to sort of reshape the paradigm in how we tackle some of these issues,” Todd said.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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