By Stacy L. Davis
BEFORE FINDING A MENTOR, WILL DOUGLAS JR. DID DRUGS AND WAS IN a gang. His mother kicked him out of the house at 18 for smoking marijuana in their home and he had no idea that college could be a part of his future. Fast-forward two years and Douglas, now 20, is enrolled as a business administration major at Peirce College in Philadelphia and has a part-time job at Kohl’s.
He attributes his turnaround to Rising Sons, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit started by 25-year-old Alex Peay. “Rising Sons changed me,” says Douglas. “They found the beauty in the beast and now the beast is no longer there,” he says.
The organization has a mission to provide young men ages 18 to 28 with leadership and professional development skills through workshops that focus on community service, operating youth programs, social entrepreneurship, money management, nonviolence, and becoming a mentor.
With an annual operating budget of $75,000, the organization’s income comes primarily through fundraisers, partnerships with other organizations, private donors and sponsors such as United Way, Naturally Neat Services, Villa clothing stores, Under Armour, and 215NYE. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently awarded Rising Sons its first grant of $4,650 as part of the Black Male Engagement Challenge, an initiative sponsored by the Knight Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and the Heinz Endowments to encourage black men to share their community improvement projects.
But Peay, who works full time as a community engagement manager for Black Male Engagement, didn’t always have financial support. He self-funded the program for the first year and a half, diligently saving about $75 from his biweekly paycheck into a separate account for Rising Sons. “I had to manage my personal expenses but still maintain a budget to pay for supplies, field trips, and food when we were first getting started,” says Peay.
Rising Sons has 12 unpaid volunteers and operates in a building owned by Drexel University. Seven of these volunteers, called mini-organizers, perform administrative tasks, and plan and execute community service projects once a month throughout Philadelphia. The other five are social entrepreneurs who launch their own individual service programs. Rising Sons currently runs five social entrepreneurship programs with 60 elementary, middle, and high school students participating on a weekly basis. Their service projects, trainings, and seminars have impacted more than 8,000 people in Philly, Peay estimates.
New volunteers fill out an application and are then required to attend weekly meetings and participate in service projects for a month before becoming an
official member. “We want to make sure that you’re dedicated,” says Peay.
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