Information in Depth about YES!Atlanta

Pictured (1988)L to R: (unknown), Michael Greenbaum, Jerry Byrd, Auzi Cleveland, Tim & Diane Goodnow, Michael Halpern

1. What is the history of YES!Atlanta?

During the summer of 1988, a small group of individuals (most pictured above), concerned about Atlanta's high school drop-out rate that even then exceeded 50%, joined with The Breakthrough Foundation of California to create what was to become YES!Atlanta (YES! stands for Youth Experiencing Success) . Organizing and fundraising, led by the late Judy Pennington (on loan to us from the Breakthrough Foundation) and homebuilder Michael Halpern took two years. The Rising Star program was launched in spring of 1990; Coaching for Success, recently merged into Rising Star, followed in 1993. Since then, YES!Atlanta's programs have positively impacted the lives of close to 1,000 teenagers.

2. How does YES!Atlanta differ from other mentoring organizations?

Unlike many other mentoring organizations, our specific intention is to provide program participants with tools for taking charge of their own lives – and then support them in doing so for up to a full year. Our mentors (called Committed Partners) have the responsibility of holding the youth to the commitments they make for self improvement when they enter the program. Coaching and support of all participants is based on these principles:

POSSIBILITY: Despite your personal circumstances, you have choices about how to act, and these choices can open the way to a future different from what you always believed possible;

RESPONSIBILITY: Ultimately, you are responsible for the choices you make -- these will create your future;

COMMITMENT: You can change your life by changing how you think and what you do;

SUPPORT: Real power comes from asking for help when you need it, and supporting others when you can.

FORGIVENESS: Letting go of your anger, bitterness, and hurt from the past promotes healing, develops compassion for others, and allows you to look forward instead of backward.

3. What is the Rising Star program and its intended impact on participants?

YES!Atlanta's Rising Star is a long-term mentoring program that, because of its focus and duration, can affect a basic change in the personality and attitudes of many of the youth and increase the probability of their graduating high school. These teens will have a greatly-increased chance of living fulfilled, productive lives while contributing to the well-being of others within their communities. They become more intentional about their lives, they get along better with parents and other authority figures, do better in school and on the job, and see possibilities for themselves beyond what they may have imagined based upon their environment and circumstances.

Youth enroll in our Rising Star program voluntarily with their parents' permission. After some preliminary activities they are introduced to their Committed Partner mentors, with whom they will work for a year to fulfill personal commitments they made upon entering the program.

A unique element of Rising Star is its 4-Day Youth Intensive. At an out-of-town site, youth spend many hours in the Course Room with trained facilitators discussing where they are, what they want out of their lives, and what it will take to make this happen. During the Intensive they participate in a Ropes Course and other team and confidence-building exercises. Since the Intensive is produced at irregular intervals depending on the state of our finances, youth who are selected to attend may be required to commit to another year in Rising Star.

The Rising Star XIV Intensive, recently completed, was led by new Board member Mary Mitchell who is herself an experienced program facilitator. We intend to take advantage of this saving to produce at least one Intensive each summer.

4. How are participants enrolled in YES!Atlanta's programs?

Rising Star participants all enroll voluntarily, attracted by word-of-mouth and presentations in local communities and junior high schools. Some candidates are sent to us by the Fulton County Juvenile Court as an alternative to adjudication for minor offenses. Others come to us through referrals from parents, school counselors, and friends who already participate. During the recruitment process, teenagers and parents/guardians are carefully and thoroughly briefed on the possibilities the program holds for them and the nature of the commitments they must make. Parents' consent is always required.

5. What are the goals YES!Atlanta's programs?

The main objective of Rising Star is that the participants remain in high school and successfully earn their degree or a G.E.D certificate, while reducing or eliminating self-defeating behavior patterns that stand in the way of their maturing into fulfilled and productive members of their community.

6. Does the Rising Star program cost participants anything?

No. Each youth is provided a full scholarship.

7. How are Tutors and Committed Partners (mentors) selected?

They are recruited from all parts of the community and represent all ages and backgrounds. All must pass a state-mandated background check. Committed Partner mentors must be at least 19 years old - those under 21 must be at least four years older than their youth. The only other prerequisites for being a Tutor or Committed Partner are the desire to make a difference in the life of another, and the willingness to make and keep a commitment to participate fully in the entire program.

Time commitments: A mentoring relationship is for a year. Mentors promise to contact their youth in person at least once a week and communicate otherwise via social media or phone. Committed Partners gather as a group once a month on a Friday night, followed the next day by a four-hour Support meeting with the teens. These team-building meetings include sharing of thoughts and feelings, review of the basic principles of the program, retelling of personally-significant experiences, and discussion of issues or problems that may have arisen. For the youth this is a unique opening-up process that greatly enhances the success of the programs. Committed Partner mentors and tutors often experience the same benefits.

A note about terminology: Early termination of a Committed Partner relationship can be seriously damaging to a youth who already may have little trust in adults. We use the term "Committed Partner" to refer to both the adult mentor and his/her youth. This usage emphasizes the nature of the relationship between the two - one of mutual trust, support, and integrity.

8. Does this program really make a difference?

To date, participants’ parents, teachers, relatives, and friends have provided considerable anecdotal evidence of the changes in the young people – generally, they are easier to get along with, are more able to make and keep commitments, do better in school and have much improved relationships with those around them.

The former Chief Justice of the Fulton County Juvenile Court, Glenda Hatchett (now a television celebrity), reported that, in her experience, youth who participate in Rising Star are 70 percent less likely to reappear in her courtroom. Independent research into similar programs has confirmed this statistic.

In 1992, then-President George H. W. Bush honored YES!Atlanta by naming it America's 1,003rd national "Point of Light" for its achievements in working with youth.

YES!Atlanta is currently working to provide an objective, professional assessment of the impact of our programs on the teenage participants as well as the volunteers.

9. What is the success rate of Rising Star?

YES!Atlanta is but one of several youth-service organizations around the Juvenile Court that provide support of various sorts (such as life skills training) to participants. When youth have fulfilled their court-mandated requirements they are released from the program. Teens who come to us at the suggestion of their school counselors remain in tutoring longer. We are working to collect statistics as to the graduation rate of this group of participants.

10. What is YES!Atlanta’s annual operating budget?

YES!Atlanta’s normal operating budget is around $140,000. Our goal is to work with over forty youth per year.

The Board of Directors and staff continually review all expenditures for increased efficiency and effectiveness, and to reflect the realities of fund raising.

11. How does YES!Atlanta raise operating funds?

YES!Atlanta is a non-profit corporation under IRS 501(c)(3). All contributions are tax deductible as provided by law. We receive financial support through individual, corporate and foundation contributions, as well as special fundraising events. In-kind donations of goods and services of all kinds are also sought and very much appreciated.

The organization’s principal source of funds is the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) that donates a portion of their annual fund-raising event. We recently completed our second Night of Lights gala and a Celebration of our 25th Anniversary. Other signature events are being planned.

12. How does YES!Atlanta allocate the funds raised?

YES!Atlanta employs a small staff with minimal administrative overhead. The majority of YES!Atlanta’s program budget goes to funding the programs, including recruiting, training and supporting the Committed Partners and tutors, monitoring the progress of mentor pairings, producing the important monthly meetings of volunteers and teenage participants, and creating other important activities like the Youth Intensive to increase team-building among both volunteers and participants.

As our enrollment expands, we will add an additional Program Manager and a Director of Development. We also hope to re-establish a small permanent office in the downtown area.

YES!Atlanta is a volunteer-intensive organization that depends heavily upon the dedicated services of citizens from throughout our community who participate in various ways. If you interested in joining us, you are invited to contact Dottie Wimberly by phone or email. She will be glad to explain the many ways that you can make a difference.

Considerable cost and effort is required to bring the possibility of dramatic change into young lives at the turning point.

We believe that, compared to the social costs of doing nothing, it is a bargain.