About a dozen Norfolk youth recently completed the inaugural summer session of Next Step to Success. For them, this was a session of fun, educational and supportive activities to help them along on their journey to adulthood.
Next Step to Success (NSTS) offers a free educational program that empowers youth to build the independent, resilient character they will need to earn success and enjoy happy, fulfilled lives. NSTS began in June 2021, after several years of discussion and planning. This is a philanthropic initiative of the James Barry-Robinson Institute Board of Trustees, rooted in the benevolence and vision of founder Frederick J. Robinson.
The program’s long-term goal over the next decade is to cut Norfolk’s poverty rate by half. In its initial services, NSTS works with middle-school aged youth from low-income families. The program focuses on ways to help them overcome challenges, graduate from high school, and enter the workforce.
“To encourage our youth to accept the notion of education, evolution and empowerment, we must start at the beginning – you are more than you think you are, and together we will be more than you believe you can be,” said NSTS Program Manager Ernesto Muhanma Garcia.
“We attempt to provide the correct medicine to heal the unfortunate circumstances that plague our communities; however, all it takes is another crime, accessible drugs and recurring financial hardship to weaken our mind, body and spirit,” Garcia shared. “As a result of these concerns, NSTS was created to help guide and re-create the narrative that changes and confirms the correct ending to the stories of our lives.”
In its summer sessions and an after-school program in 2021-22, NSTS staff teach and model core values, effective problem-solving skills; communication, social and daily life skills; avoidance of risky behaviors; financial literacy; strategies for motivation; self-regulation skills; and more.
Charles V. McPhillips, board chair and a prominent Norfolk civic leader, spoke at the ceremony. He shared his story of being born and raised in Norfolk, and his commitment to support a new generation of Norfolk youth with as many opportunities as he had. He told the youth they are all capable of reaching their dreams, and NSTS will help them.
“What excites me the most is to see how far these youth will go and how much they will achieve in one year, two years, and three years. This is the start of a new journey for each of them, a journey that will be filled with some challenges, but many celebrations and accomplishments along the way,” said Monique V. Turner, vice president of benevolent programs.
During a memorable “Stepping Up” ceremony July 15, the youth heard from several speakers and showcased their own talents and projects. Eleven young people completed the four-week session, and several returned for a second session.
At the ceremony, students performed a dance routine choreographed by Lydia Coco, director of Ballet Virginia and former principal dancer with the Alvin Alley Dance Theater. Imari Santiago, NSTS lead success coach, read tributes that she wrote each participant, highlighting their strengths, attributes and skills.
“The chance to have a team of mentors behind you to accomplish all of your goals and open your eyes to new experiences is one that every youth should take advantage of,” Santiago said. “Parents seem to be very grateful in knowing their youth are cared for, hear, and encouraged every day they are in partnership with us. This is hard work, without a doubt, but it is the overwhelming success that each individual is capable of that makes it worth it.”
Youth also presented several written and visual arts projects that that they worked on during the session. Each participant received a planner, the book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, and a certificate of achievement.
“When I see how youth in our summer camp – learning new skills, discovering new hobbies and making new friends – I know NSTS is making a huge difference in their. For many, this might be the highlight of their summer,” Turner said. “I am so happy to know these youth had a safe place to be with loving, caring, and dedicated adults who make up our NSTS team. In today’s world, we need more programs like NSTS.”
NSTS’ second summer session ends this week. The after-school program begins September 20, 2021.