By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer
United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Young Leaders volunteered for their Day of Action this summer at King Kennedy Boys & Girls Club. The program included a group talk between the six Young Leaders in attendance and teenagers at the club, followed by a game of basketball.
United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Young Leaders program is committed to eliminating the low-income achievement gap in Greater Cleveland. By pairing young professionals early in their careers with teenagers from Cleveland schools, the group works to promote United Way of Greater Cleveland’s education initiatives. By focusing on the low-income achievement gap, professionals involved in Young Leaders commit themselves to breaking the cycle of poverty in Cleveland.
The group’s Day of Action on June 14 was at the King Kennedy Boys & Girls Club run by Director Richard Starr. The club services students from numerous Cleveland schools — including several wraparound schools such as George Washington Carver and East Tech High School.
TAKING THE LEAD
Kevin Karder, continuous improvement analyst at Sherwin-Williams and member of the Young Leaders cabinet, took the lead at the club, discussing with other participants about how they should split up the group and what their talks should focus on.
Volunteers engaged with students, many of whom were 14-and 15-years-old. Topics discussed included cyberbullying, plans for the future and career goals.
“If you want to talk about something, are interested in something, we’re open and want to talk,” Karder said to the club members. Many were reluctant to talk at first, but began to open up as volunteers continued to talk to them.
“We had a different scheduled talk with the teenagers, something a little more impactful in their lives,” he said. “But maybe over time they’ll be a little bit more warmed up to that, so maybe next time.”
Karder said he became interested in the volunteer opportunity after Allison Taller Reich, Young Leaders co-chair and associate at Frantz Ward, mentioned it to him. A Cleveland native, he feels a connection with the club members at King Kennedy.
“I grew up in Euclid, single parent, all that, so I kind of feel for the kids,” he said. “It’s easy to do happy hours for fundraising but this actually takes work … the teenagers have been through a lot and are going to take some time to open up, but the really young kids, they open up right away, they don’t have any type of affliction, so that really just warms my heart when they’re happy like that.”
Starr said 89 percent of the children at the club are coming from single-parent households, many female-headed. Starr works to be the male role model for children at the club, even attending parent-teacher conferences.
The Young Leaders program works to provide these students with other role models, and The King Kennedy club was the first to pilot the project.
The Day of Action was Neleen Leslie’s first time volunteering with the program. Leslie, a visiting assistant professor of marketing at Cleveland State University, came to the club because she credits programs like it with her professional success.
“I’m from Jamaica, so I’m coming from a developing country where it’s mentors, people who gave up their time, that actually gave me that opportunity to [take] the next step in my life, in my career, academically and all of that,” she said. “It’s important to give back whenever possible.”
While it was also her first Young Leaders Day of Action, Leslie worked at a Boys & Girls Club in Florida and understood the demographic that her work would impact in Cleveland.
“As much as possible, I love to reach out to younger people,” she said. “People who are in high school, middle school, who are thinking about the future. A lot of times they don’t get people to talk to them about — realistically speaking — ‘what are you trying to do next?’ and trying to put some of that into perspective. So I was really excited about this opportunity.”
The next Young Leaders event is a speaker series talk from Jason Rudman from Key Bank, Wednesday, July 6. The next Day of Action is at the King Kennedy Club, Tuesday, July 26.