BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — I Support Youth Inc. (ISY) is an organization that is literally going door to door, seeking to change the lives of young people for the better.
According to Lewis Stephens, who founded the organization last year and is also the executive director, ISY differs from typical youth organizations and programs by taking a far more active approach.
“I think what separates us from a lot of the programs is other programs wait for the kids to come to them,” Stephens said. “We’re going to them.”
While making stops around St. Pete to give motivational talks, Lewis developed the idea for I Support St. Pete Youth, and from there it was only a matter of time before he “thought bigger” and is now involving the youth of other area cities, including Clearwater and Tampa.
Lewis Stephens, Founder & Executive Director
When Stephens worked for the Dept. of Juvenile Justice, he explained, he came in contact with a 16 year old who was staring down the barrel of a 20-year prison sentence. It made Stephens think. What if he could have taken that young man on a college trip? Or shown him different, positive paths available to him in his own community? Could he have made a difference? It inspired him to found ISY and to help as many youths as he could. In the process, he began to organize the community.
“We had youth pastors, we had leaders within the community, we had Luke Williams, assistant chief of police, city council,” Stephens said. “I pulled everyone together at different meetings to speak on how we can bring a change here with our youth of the city.”
As a result of these meetings, ISY kicked off a “90-day Action Plan,” during which the organization’s members visited various high crime areas and developed a database with the help of parents and teens about how ISY can assist and offer guidance to address crime and improve various neighborhoods. ISY has launched a number of beneficial programs including Youth Job Creation, Youth Internship Program, Youth Adopt-a-Block, Girls and Boys Mentor Program and College trips, among others.
“On that 90-day plan we really structured everything and got everything moving.” Stephens pointed out.
The Job Creation Program, for example, gives young people the opportunity to better prepare for job interviews and ultimately the workforce. Job hopefuls go through a three-week course, usually held at a local recreation center, where they learn interview skills and personal presentation, among other important essentials.
“We work with them on how to sell themselves, how to dress,” Stephens explained, adding that when the young people complete the course, ISY will help them with job placement. They even continue to work with the kids once they’ve secured employment, even talking to various store managers to see how the kids are doing.
Some employers have been so happy with the young people they have hired, they keep in communication with ISY to let the organization know if they are on the lookout for more new recruits.
For its Girls and Boys Mentor Program, ISY went door-to-door to recruit members, and past events have included Easter events and teen summits.
“We have days where we go door-to-door and talk to the parents, talk to the kids,” Stephens said, “and pretty much between all the programs that we offer, we usually get a kid to sign up for a program.”
Until ISY’s website is ready to be launched, area youths and parents interested in ISY can visit ISY’s Facebook page for information or to sign up for programs.
When Stephens ran for city council not long ago, one of his major concerns was to help the youth of the community, particularly in high crime areas. During one of his door-to-door walks, he recalled approaching a young man on a street corner with a bandana, two daughters and zero desire to talk to Stephens. But in the end this young father listened to what he had to say—as a result, Stephens was not only able to find him a job but sign him up for a GED program. Now employed, the young man has not been back on the street, Stephens said proudly.
“To see young peoples’ live change right in front of me is just the greatest reward!” he said.
To reach Frank Drouzas, email firstname.lastname@example.org