For 20 young black males, Project Y.E.S. has been instrumental in their saying "yes" to their dreams.
"I thought it was about getting big, so I was excited about coming," said Darius Walker, 15. "We've had a lot of speakers who know where we're coming from and they tell us how to be successful. It put a thought into my mind that I can be successful too, so when I think about it, Project Y.E.S. is about getting big in a way."
Project Youths Exemplifying Success began in July through a collaboration between Shiloh Comprehensive Community Center and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.
"When I came to Shiloh, we didn't have a youth male program," said Tonda Booker, the executive director of the community center. "I wanted to think of something that was not just another program out there, but something that's going to make a difference."
The youths, ages 10-18, attend the program twice a week for tutoring, test preparation and mentoring. Each week, a different black role model from the community speaks to the youths.
"We have honor roll students now. We have students who look forward to going to school and coming to Project Y.E.S. They are doing very well. It's been a success," she said.
For the tutors who also act as mentors for the youths, seeing them succeed is rewarding.
"It makes us put things in perspective. When you hear a guy say that he has gone from being a D student to being a B-plus student, it lets you know that you are in the right place and you are making a difference," said Jarvis Ellis, a tutor and mentor.
Beyond academics, the goal of Project Y.E.S. is to teach the youths to dream and to plan to achieve their dreams, Ms. Booker said.
Several of the youths are doing just that.
"I like building stuff, so I want to have my own construction company. I want to go to school to learn the trade and about business. Right now, I'm looking at Florida State (University) and UCLA," said Gregory English, 16.
Darius also wants to own a business and is already planning on how to take it to a national level, starting with a degree in business.
"I plan to start my own business, but to start one I know I need to go to school. I plan to graduate valedictorian, so I'm going to go to Harvard and learn about business," he said.
Since starting the program, the most important thing Darius has learned is to say "I can."
"I don't like people to tell me that I can't do anything," he said. "If someone I know came to me and said the word 'can't,' I'll tell them that they can. Knowledge, that's how you become successful. There is somebody out there trying to help us. All we have to do is let them."
"If you go the right way and get your education, you can be successful. If it's out there and you really want it, you can get it," he said.
Reach Nikasha Dicks at (706) 823-3336 or email@example.com.