By Mary King
No, there’s not a new superhero in town, although Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and the administration at Hickman Mills School District might call this a hero project. Following a year-long process, GreenLight Fund Kansas City announced on Monday, September 14, that the organization is investing $1.7 million in Youth Guidance’s Becoming a Man (BAM) and Working on Womanhood (WOW) school-based group counseling and mentoring programs.
“The GreenLight Fund is one of those things, almost like manna from the heavens, that starts to build up what is, in some ways, an answer to so many of the challenges we have in Kansas City each day,” said Lucas. “When we talk about things and issues ranging from housing and crime to economic activity and job development, we realize that it’s not a solution necessarily that somebody who is a mayor or city councilman addresses, it’s people who start from day one; starting with our young people and building mentoring opportunities… building hope, really, for young people in Kansas City and around our region.”
The BAM and WOW programs work to improve the social-emotional and behavioral competencies of students in grades 7-12, who have been exposed to traumatic stressors and face social, behavioral, cognitive, or emotional challenges. In partnership with the Hickman Mills School District, BAM and WOW counselors will serve more than 100 students at Smith-Hale Middle School and Ruskin High School, beginning in January 2021, with plans to expand to eight schools across the metro by 2025.
“What BAM and WOW have meant in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles and many others is making sure that true mentoring activities that tells our young people that not only do we care about them one week, one month, one activity, one event, but for a lifetime,” said Lucas. “This investment is one of many in Kansas City that is making sure that people know that it’s not just a one-year fix for how we address some of our challenges, it is a multi-year fix and a multi-year investment in our young people.”
GreenLight launched its model locally in 2019, forming an inclusive Selection Advisory Council made up of leaders from across the community to guide its five-step process, which seeks the most effective social innovations to address the needs that matter most to residents facing barriers to prosperity. The result of this was a focus on identifying programs that could counter the impact of violence and trauma young people have experienced. GreenLight worked with the advisory council and identified the BAM and WOW programs as leading evidence-based initiatives supporting the unique mental health needs of adolescents.
“Too often we don’t get out here to southeast Kansas City,” added Lucas. “Too often we don’t get to our neighborhoods in the Hickman Mills School District. We care about you. We care about the future here in Hickman Mills. We care about the future of Kansas City and for all of our young people in Kansas City, and I thank the GreenLight Fund for helping us make that investment.”
GreenLight Fund Kansas City Executive Director Sarah Haberberger shared her passion for the investment the organization has made in Hickman Mills.
“We heard directly from Kansas City youth that they are looking for safe spaces to share their feelings, know they are not alone, heal from trauma, find hope and feel empowered; needs that have only grown because of our nations’ current health and economic crises, as well as our ongoing fight against anti-Black racism,” said Haberberger. “BAM and WOW address those needs head on.”
BAM and WOW were selected as the first investment in a portfolio of solutions. Each year, GreenLight will lead a community-driven process to bring another proven solution to address gaps in services to families in Kansas City.
GreenLight has made a commitment to the success of BAM and WOW as they launch in Kansas City by providing financial and on-the-ground support for the next four years. A local executive director for BAM and WOW will begin this fall and will hire and train counselors from the community to embed in Smith-Hale Middle School and Ruskin High School, while also building relationships with other school districts to reach more students. Expansion efforts are aided by a $500,000 grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, which focuses on reform efforts within and outside of school systems that improve educational opportunities and outcomes for all students.
“Thank you for seeing that Hickman Mills will be the first district to start this initiative (in Kansas City),” said Hickman Mills Superintendent Yaw Obeng. “We have a strong commitment to inclusivity, equity, and providing our students with what they need in order to move forward. I believe that this program will provide the necessary wrap-around structure needed from many of our students with challenges from within the buildings or outside in the community.”
Mayor Lucas stated that there are a lot of people in the Kansas City region who approach him on a regular basis asking what can be done about violent crime and the current racial climate in the country.
“I think what we are seeing is what they can do,” said Lucas. “This investment in restorative justice, the investment in caring for our young people, is something that is going to be vital to changing so many of the things we see each day.
“We hear a lot of bad news, but nevertheless, what we see right now is an opportunity to build good news and good stories for our young people to address those issues,” Lucas added. “What are you doing about this or that in our neighborhood? Here’s the answer, and here’s the type of program that does it.”
Youth Guidance’s BAM program serves more than 13,000 youth across Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles and London. This will be the first expansion outside of Chicago for the WOW program.