116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Theopthile Habimana has long wanted to become a doctor.
The 20-year-old University of Iowa freshman, who studies global health and premedicine, says the nonprofit Leaders, Believers, Achievers Foundation has given him the tools, mentorship and inspiration to help him get there. He has been involved in the organization since he was a sixth-grader at Roosevelt Middle School.
Graduation still is a few years away, and then he plans to go to medical school. In the meantime, he’s shadowing a heart surgeon at UnityPoint-Health- St. Luke’s Hospital.
And after working with AmeriCorps last summer, Habimana said he feels called to help address humanitarian needs through Doctors Without Borders or another nonprofit group. That work also appeals to him as a refugee whose family was from Rwanda, fled as the country’s people were killed in the genocide in the 1990s and eventually moved to Lusaka, Zambia. They faced persecution there before coming to the United States.
“Some kids, they grow up dreaming big and then as time goes on, they don’t have that support system around them, or they never even did have that support system or anyone to tell them they could do all the things that they aspire to do,” Habimana said.
But, he said, the LBA Foundation teaches youth, “You can be what you want to be as long as you put in the time.”
It’s young people like Habimana who Cedar Rapids city officials aim to connect with and support through a new partnership.
The Cedar Rapids City Council in December approved a two-year agreement through November 2022 to contribute $100,000 to the LBA Foundation's Cedar Rapids Outreach Program, a collaboration with local groups and agencies to connect at-risk youth and the community.
The organization held its second event Saturday — a field day at Jones Park — under the partnership with the city. The event featured activities such as yoga, fishing, kickball and a TikTok station with grilled Hy-Vee food for youth, their parents and partners from around the community.
Executive Director Al O’Bannon said community-building is a key strategy for the organization.
“Our kids want to know that Cedar Rapids is a great place for them to stay, live and work,” O’Bannon said. “And we want our community businesses to know that there’s great talent here. We just need to work together to find some ways to bring it together.”
LBA Foundation President Kenyon Murray was pleased to see a bustling park Saturday afternoon, and said he hoped the organization could continue to be a “galvanizing force” in the community.
“To get here, it’s unbelievable,” Murray said of the city partnership, something that he said the team wanted for a long time to help share the organization’s message and mission.
Amaya Nelson, 17, who helped coordinate volunteers for the different activity stations Saturday, said the field day was “a day for the whole community.”
JaeCis Wright, 15, who has been involved with the LBA Foundation since sixth grade, said “there’s a lot of stuff, a lot of opportunities” at the event, and no shortage of mentors.
“It’s all around,” Nelson added.
Cedar Rapids police Sgt. Laura Faircloth, who has helped facilitate the organization’s partnership on the Police Department end, said the department agreed to partner in four events throughout the year for the two-year partnership.
The first event was a recent video gaming night to engage officers who wanted to connect in a different way than participating in athletic activities. It was not revealed to the youth participants that they were gaming with police officers until midway through the event, Faircloth said.
“I think any time that you can connect any youth within the community to the police department or any other of our city departments is a great opportunity,” Faircloth said. “They meet us in a one-on-one basis, and maybe they’re interested in becoming a police officer, maybe they’re interested in doing something else with the city, or maybe they just want to gain those relationships. I know that we do.”
City Parks and Recreation Director Scott Hock said any time the city can connect with groups like the LBA Foundation, “We want to be part of that.”
The city’s Rollin’ Recmobile, which travels to bring recreational activities to youth around Cedar Rapids, was at the event Saturday. Hock said such partnerships help remove obstacles people have to recreation by connecting the organization’s participants to city services, which is a benefit for both parties.
City Council member Dale Todd, the chair of the council’s Public Safety and Youth Services Committee, said what the LBA Foundation does seems simple, but it’s all about creating interactions between youth and other community mentors like city staff, including police officers, to nurture their growth.
“It’s all about building bonds of trust one step at a time,” Todd said.
Todd approached Habimana, gave his arm a nudge and said, “I’ll be looking forward to reading about you in four or five years when you’re running some company somewhere.”
It’s people like Todd who Habimana said he has been lucky to meet through the LBA Foundation. Now as a coach in the nonprofit, he enjoys paying it forward as a role model for youth and recruiting others his age to join in the “cycle of giving back.”
“I see a lot of myself in them and I see the potential they have and I just want to draw that out — do for people what they did for me,” Habimana said.
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