By: Arli Lima, Staff Writer
“What I’ve realized is that life doesn’t count for much unless you’re willing to do your small part to leave our children — all of our children — a better world.” – Barack Obama
Ronald Fitzgerald and Dr. Dermell Brunson are selfless examples of two young men giving back to their community. The two childhood friends founded a youth center in Maryland eight years ago after volunteering and working with other youth to help cultivate their interests in the arts. The Leaders of Tomorrow Youth Center began with a summer workshop and has now grown into a school and community based program partnered by Baltimore Raven’s Ray Lewis Foundation and the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation. Read on to find out how Ronald and Dermell plan to continue growing LTYC and inspiring youth in the Baltimore community.
How did you decide eight years ago at the ages of 19 and 20 to go beyond tutoring and mentoring youth in the community and open a youth center?
Ronald: We initially started with workshops in a summer program back in 2004. After the success of that small program we developed and created a business plan around the idea to include more specific topics for Elementary and Middle School students and the youth center started to build from there.
What type of workshops did you begin with?
Dermell: We took the ideas of the initial summer program that Ronald spoke of in 2004 which was an arts based program and started doing workshops on other topics as well. The topics primarily covered the life-skills areas such as, leadership, financial literacy, sex, and drug education. From there we began to create a milieu of programming and options for programs to connect with ours and we can offer not only the performing and creative arts in a programmatic format but also use the creative and performing arts to fuel the life skills portion as well.
Did you have the opportunity to attend similar youth centers and summer programs when you were younger?
Dermell: Ronald and I met in a similar program when we were both in the 6th grade at age 11. It was an arts program in a community based recreation center that we went to after school. For both of us it gave support for the summer and was also a place of volunteer and paid work for us as we continued to grow into pre-teens. From there it inspired us to move into the arts community and attend the Baltimore School for the Arts which we both now are Alumni.
Where is the center located?
Dermell: Leaders of Tomorrow Youth Center is based out of Owings Mills, Maryland. We don’t have a central location. We have programs within other organizations such as schools and churches.
Is securing a location something you want to do in the future or are you content with the outreach aspect of the center?
Dermell: I think the outreach is definitely more important to us than location. Right now we have been lucky and blessed enough to be mobile and to work with all of our people mobily with the help of technology. An actual location would be something we look for about two or three years down the line.
You mentioned working with your people…How many people are on the staff at LTYC?
Ronald: We have a staff of about 25 practitioners and licensed clinicians that serve as the staff for LTYC in every area pertaining to all the arts, theatre, dance, music, visual arts, creative writing, life skills, and the parent empowering team. We also offer a couple of other support programs such as our mentoring behavior intervention, and we offer Spanish. Myself and Dermell operate right now as the managers and founders of the center as we continue to build the foundation of the program.
It seems like you offer an array of different programs for children, young adults and families. What is the age range that you see on a daily basis at the center?
Ronald : Right now ages 5-18. We also offer parent empowerment programs; everything we do is based from our own experiences and effective research about how young people’s development is progressive. We decided to add a parental family component to our program so that we can have our hand on the pulse of the family as well as impact the lives of the young people within the family. Our parent program is school based, it’s like a PTA program times 100, we just interact and provide life skills and sessions to encourage the parents.
What are the hours of operation for LTYC?
Dermell: We get that question a lot. Because we contract with other organizations, schools, and churches, we operate on their schedules. It’s not an actual center or location as you may think of, as much as it is us contracting and connecting with other organizations and doing the work inside those other locations. Right now our main focus is the school system and right now we are working in a lot of schools.
As a result of partnering with Baltimore City schools, you were also able to partner with the Ray Lewis Foundation and the Will and Jada Smith Foundation…Can you tell us a little about that?
Ronald : Our partnership with the Ray Lewis Foundation is a partnership that happened in 2010 during our Summer Program. We also partnered in 2009, 2010 and 2011 for their Thanksgiving Holiday Giveaway. In 2009 we were involved in choosing 20 families within the schools and churches that we partner with to receive Thanksgiving baskets from the Ray Lewis Foundation. And in 2010, once again they saw fit to partner with us as they intended to do more outreach and find a suitable program to connect with and provide relevant summer programming. We were very thankful and fortunate to have a mixture of the arts and academics with a recreational milieu that about 60 kids were able to participate in 2010.
Dermell: The Will and Jada Smith Foundation, we’ve had a long standing mentor relationship with the executive director of the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation. She has been a silent strength, base, and wealth of information for us over the last eight years as we founded LTYC. She saw fit that this year was the perfect year for the foundation to connect with LTYC and partner to offer quality and performing arts programming for the community.
Do either of you have a background in community work or has it come naturally with the eight years you have been involved in LTYC?
Ronald: Dermell’s background is definitely a lot more extensive in community work. I do as well when working with youth and the arts, but my background is more in the business and financial management aspect of it, that is more my focus here. We both have an interest and background in helping other organizations achieve their goals as well.
In regards to the financial management, What are some of the ways you raise funds to sponsor LTYC?
Ronald: We’ve been lucky and blessed enough to contract with numerous organizations and build partnerships where individuals and principles and heads of these organizations have been gracious enough to fit us into their budgets. They work with us are be able to review our programming and include us into their budgets for the school year and that has been the primary source of funding. Over the years we have done a number of fundraisers, about four or five to help bring in money for funding as well.
I must say I’m really impressed that you guys have accomplished so much with developing LTYC at the young ages of 27 and 28.
Ronald: I think it’s important for us as young men to be able to do the work in the community and to provide that as an example for the kids in the program. We want them to see two young men in the community providing resources and influence them and motivate them to hopefully b do the same thing in their community. I think that part of giving back helps to show that to children.
Dermell: Thank You for acknowledging that. I think a part of the intention is also to encourage young people to hone their gifts, talents, and interests when they are pre-teens are teenagers, not wait for the staple society way of doing something once in college. We want them to start doing whatever they are gifted to do and feel free to begin at any age. There is no time or age limits on those things to get started and start your journey.
What can we expect next from LTYC?
Dermell: Right now we provide services in Baltimore City and the surrounding counties. We are contracted to also do one-on-one art support and additional programs listed on our website. We are also partnering with organizations such as Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems and we will continue to offer after school programming and summer programming in a consistent fashion where young people can experience a conservatory model program all year around.
What is your website if our readers would like to learn more about LTYC?