YMCA program aims to develop Black Achievers

September 03, 2004|by JANET HEIM

Timing is everything. And the time is right for a new leadership program at the Hagers-town YMCA called Black Achievers, said Michael Flicek, executive director of the Hagerstown Y.

The program, which kicked off with a picnic at Fairgrounds Park on Aug. 22, will officially get under way Sept. 12.

"I think this will be well received by Washington County," Flicek said.

The program's focus is providing positive adult role models for minority students in grades seven through 12, with an emphasis on exposure to career, educational and social opportunities. One of the strengths of the program is the investment of local businesses and the community in its youth.


Black Achievers was started by Dr. Leo B. Marsh at the Harlem New York YMCA in 1971. The Hagerstown Y is one of more than 100 YMCAs in the National Black Achievers Network.

The local effort began after LaSaundra Dorsey, who is responsible for community relations for the Hagerstown Y, attended a Black Achievers conference in November 2003.

Each night, Dorsey would return to Hagerstown from the Washington, D.C., conference, filled with excitement for the program, which she shared with Flicek and her husband, Ed Dorsey. While attending the conference, she became a certified Black Achievers director.

The Y was interested in expanding its leadership programs in the community, so the timing was right. It also provided an opportunity to recognize outstanding local minority professionals.

A group of adults and young people from Hagerstown made several trips to Harrisburg, Pa., the closest Y with a Black Achievers program. The Harrisburg Y's program is in its sixth year and was rated best in the nation.

The Hagerstown contingent was impressed with what they saw, put together a steering committee to bring the program to Hagerstown, with Ed Dorsey as president, and began meeting in December 2003.

"I was so impressed with those kids. On field trips, they were not afraid to ask questions and were focused on what they wanted to do after high school," LaSaundra Dorsey said. "You can tell they'd been exposed to things in their lives."

First Data steps up

The committee of 10 began meeting every other Thursday morning to develop a plan.

After determining it would cost about $30,000 a year to pay for the program, the search for funding began. Flicek had previously spoken with representatives of the First Data Western Union Foundation, the charitable arm of First Data Corp., about funding for other projects.

The steering committee received $10,000 from that foundation, as well as $3,000 from the Washington County Community Foundation, with plans to solicit more funding from local businesses.

"First Data's funding goes a long way to help make the program a reality," Flicek said.

The cost to participate in the program is $50 for Y members and $75 for nonmembers, which helps offset the cost of trips. Financial aid is available.

The group plans to meet on Sunday afternoons from 3 to 5 p.m. on alternating weeks, running in conjunction with the school calendar.

Once a month, the participants will meet as a group with emphasis on cultural awareness and goal setting for education, career and life; in the other session, they will meet in their chosen clusters.

Clusters include arts and culture, business, computers and technology, educators, medical, public service and law. As of now, five of the six clusters have leaders, LaSaundra Dorsey said.

The program should be able to accommodate up to 100 youth achievers, depending on the number of adult volunteers willing to serve as Adult Achievers, the youth mentors. Strong parent support and participation are also a key to a successful program.

Field trips, tours

Field trips are part of the program, including tours of colleges. The program encourages education and one of the goals is to be able to provide college scholarships.

Ed Dorsey is excited about the plans for the business cluster to hear a restaurant owner talk about running a business, about the T-shirt design for the program that will be generated by the arts cluster and the connections in the local medical community that will allow achievers in the medical cluster to consider a variety of jobs.

"One of the things that intrigues me about the program is the opportunity to show kids things they wouldn't think of," he said. "I believe this program will make a difference. For me, if it only makes a difference for one child, then it's worth it."

The career clusters are geared toward high school achievers, while the middle schoolers will be exposed to volunteerism.

"We all learn from each other, that we have something to give," LaSaundra Dorsey said. "... No one has success without the help of someone else."

For more information, call the Hagerstown YMCA at 301-739-3990.

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