An open house was held for Family Blueprints last weekend at St. James AME Church on Patterson Avenue, which is providing the non-profit with its first physical location. On Tuesday, the agency began offering its first program at St. James, My Brother’s Keeper, which educates teen boys in financial literacy, entrepreneurship and how to avoid pitfalls such as becoming teenage fathers.
Family Blueprints was started in 2010 by its executive director, 39-year-old Katisha Blackwell, who has a background in both pregnancy prevention and intervention. Blackwell said while there are many preventative programs aimed at girls, the same wasn’t true for boys between that 13-18. Family Blueprints is aiming to change that.
“The boys are the other part of the equation, and I wanted to be sure there were services that were available to them that were prevention-focused,” said Blackwell.
The cause is personal to Blackwell, whose mother had her first child when she was 17. Her mother graduated high school but had three children by the time she was 22 and struggled to make ends meet. She said often teen parents start a cycle by having children who themselves become teen parents and live in poverty.
Blackwell knows that the cycle can be broken or avoided altogether. Her mother worked hard to succeed and keep her kids focused on school, not the opposite sex. Blackwell and all of her siblings earned college degrees and none had children before they were adults.
“Coming from a situation where your parent is a teen parent doesn’t mean that has to be your own future. I was able to experience something different because my mother was pushing education and making sure I had the opportunity to be exposed to different things as I was growing up,” said Blackwell, the mother of 13 year-old Zaria. “...So I really want, at this stage particularly, to be able to open up the same opportunities for young people who may be coming from similar situations.”
The holistic approach used by My Brother’s Keepers involves financial literacy sessions taught by volunteers from local banks; entrepreneurship lessons taught by Blackwell herself; and Wise Guys, a prevention program led by the Children’s Home Society of N.C. Family Life Council. In the spring, an art component will be offered in partnership with Authoring Action. Tutoring is also available and each young man in My Brother’s Keepers is matched with a male volunteer mentor. Participants are expected to become mentors themselves as the program progresses.
Six of the ten available slots in the program are filled. Justin Edmonds, 14, is one of the participants. He said he is mostly looking forward to the financial and entrepreneurial components of the program. Case management is also a part of My Brother’s Keepers, so the program will work with participants’ parents to as well to help them better help their kids.
Justin’s mother, Deshawnna, is excited about what the program has in store for her son. Her daughter was a client of Blackwell’s when Blackwell worked at Catholic Social Services Hand to Hand teen pregnancy program. Deshawnna Edmonds said she saw positive results then and expects Blackwell to help Justin, who is already doing well in school, to continue down the right path.
“I have a kid who wants to do something with himself, so (it’s good) to be able to have a program help him get where he wants to be in life, to be able to have someone on his side to tell him it’s okay to be smart and graduate, it’s okay to not have kids or indulge in the world because your peers are doing the same thing,” said Edmonds, a single mother of four.
Family Blueprint’s new digs – three rooms on the upper floor of St. James – were donated by the church. St. James Pastor Steven L. Lyons said he felt the community could greatly benefit from what the agency has to offer.
“If we sit here and do absolutely nothing, we’re not living out the cause of Christ, so we opened up our doors to them,” said Lyons. “They needed a house, we needed them, so it’s a wonderful partnership.”
Board Member Micha James said that it’s taken a lot of hard work – fundraisers, forging partnerships, soliciting volunteers– to make the agency’s mission a reality, but that it’s been worth it.
“I wanted to get involved because we hear so much about what our children aren’t doing, and I definitely didn’t want to discuss problems anymore, I wanted to be part of the solution,” said James, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield employee.
Olita Alexander, a board member with more than 20 years of experience working in the non-profit sector, said she’s looking forward to seeing the good that Blueprints will do.
“There are going to be lives affected and changed,” she said.