Helping Youth Realize their Dreams through Empowerment
Center for Success Network:
Two Brothers Bring Hope to Under-Resourced Communities
By Nicole Weddington
Brothers DJ, 32, and Ryan Ikeler, 30, wanted to create a safe space for the children in their neighborhood to do their homework. It started out as an idea as simple as that.
One wintery night in 2013, the two of them drove around Pontiac, Mich., looking for a physical location where youth could realize their dreams. What they found was a dilapidated building overgrown with grass in what many would considerto be a horrible neighborhood. But what the Ikelers saw was a beacon of hope full of potential. This would be where it all began.
The brothers, the oldest of four siblings, said they grew up in an awesome family and had access to resources, and people that helped them become the men they are today. Feeling blessed, they felt that giving to those children less fortunate than them was a calling from God.
“We did it because we couldn't find a reason not to. Once we realized how blessed we were to be raised the way we were, it lit a passion in us to help as many people as possible. For me, I think it's a tragedy that there are kids in our back yard who don't know how to read,” said DJ.
The two set out with a very basic, but powerful,belief that if they could make a difference in the life of a child, it would impact generations to come.
Over the course of the next few months, they gathered friends, relativesand corporate partners to help them turn this run down building into a bright place for kids. Now this location is one of three (and more to come!) locations serving Pontiac, Detroit and Saginaw.
Fast forward to present day, the Center for Success has now flourished into a full-blown after-school program with a focus on literacy and bringing students up to grade level in reading through mentor support.
“The idea that we couldn't stand was that there were kids out there who didn't have a chance to learn to read or to be told they can achieve their dreams. Readers are leaders, and leaders are readers. But if you have not learned to read, everything else in life will be so much harder,” DJ said.
So how does it all work?
Students are picked up from school and provided a meal before being turned over to their mentors for the one-hour literacy program. There is roughly a one-to-one student to mentor ratio.
“This past year, the average student saw an increase of2.3 grade levels in their reading ability!” exclaimed DJ, who currently serves as the Center’s CEO and Board president.
And while the Center is clearly accomplishing their goal of helping children read, the mentors also help with homework from all subject areas. Most of the staffhas education backgrounds, which is encouraged but not required. The volunteers are then trained by the staff. The lesson plans are put together by the staff and delivered by volunteers.
“I believe that the students and staff all have an eagerness to learn, and are willing to try many ways to find the best method for each individual. Our mentors are very enthusiastic and are committed to supporting their student in all areas of need,” said Andrea Meyer, vice president of Programs and Engagement, and director of the Center for Success’ Detroit location.
Meyer went on to explain that the students are making tremendous progress. The families report increases in confidence, engagement in school activities,rate of turning in homework, eagerness to learn, and willingness to try new things.
The Center for Success is free to all elementary through high school students thanks to the generosity of donors and nonprofit organizations in the Detroitarea, and a variety of fundraising endeavors.
“We are very proud of the growth of the program, and in the success of each of our students. In addition to the literacy and academic support, we engage our students in a wide variety of extracurricular activities to ensure they are excited about learning!” said Meyer. Some of the student activities include swimming, golf, spoken word poetry and cooking classes, to name a few. Meyer explained that the activities build confidence and positivity in the students.
“It's a heart thing. For me, and I know Ryanagrees, when I look at the world around us and see so much need, my heart breaks. The Center for Success was a way in which we really believed we could help change the world by impacting kids,” said DJ.
For more information on the Center forSuccess or to be a volunteer, call 313.320.9861 or visit www.center4success.org.
Center for Success
1600 E. Grand Blvd.
Detroit, MI 48211