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partnership4kids

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BREAKING BARRIERS AND BUILDING BRIDGES

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life beyond limits metroMAGAZINE special edition

PARTNERSHIP4KIDS


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transforming COMMUNITIES

partnership4kids

BREAKING BARRIERS AND BUILDING BRIDGES giving at-risk youth hope and a pathway to success is the core mission of the goal-setting and mentoring collaborative known as partnership 4 Kids. Serving more than 4,700 k-9 students in 22 schools with the help of 400 plus volunteers, p4k sprang out of two small adopt-a-school programs initiated by omaha entrepreneurs.

by combining resources to provide support from them an opportunity to see themselves as In 1989, local busInessman and early childhood through college, these efforts phIlanthropIst Michael Yanney successes. studies show that one meaningful can now make a greater impact on participants. launched ALL OUR KIDS at thenperson in a child’s life is the difference.” mcmIllan JunIor hIgh school as a way “If you can make the difference in those kids to capture and support the lost youth omaha public schools superintendent he saw beIng left behInd In north omaha. where they start to believe they can succeed, Mark Evans says a mentor can be the difference you’re starting to make a huge indentation in the between a child being hopeless and hopeful. problems we have here in omaha,” says he formed a contract with 20 at-risk youth that had high potential but displayed low achievement president of p4K, Deb Denbeck.“that’s why “If you start to believe you’re not going to get we’re so passionate about what we do and that’s and he promised them a post-secondary opportunities then you’re more apt to skip school, why we’re looking for more help. we have the education if they met a set of expectations . groundwork set at the very time kids enter school to have disciplinary problems, maybe even dropout,” he says, “but if you believe there’s hope and then it’s a continuum from kindergarten Volunteer mentors were assigned to each and that light at the end of tunnel is close enough, through careers that we work with them.” student to guide their progress. mike and his you say, ‘I can do this, I can get through this and wife gail became personal mentors to several have opportunities.’ partnership 4 Kids brings that It’s about breaking generational poverty, which students. over the next two decades the positive adult in to bring that light at the end of tends to persist with a lack of education. program expanded into more schools and the tunnel a little closer to students, where there’s touched the lives of more young people, many “education is at the core of everything we do with a belief or hope that they can succeed.” of whom have realized the dream of a college youth, but it is the relationship building and education and a career. providing positive role models in their lives that Success Story makes the real difference”, denbeck says. P4K Alum Monique Cribbs business owners Jerry and Cookie is enjoying education-career success. Hoberman wanted to give back to the north caring adult volunteers remain central to the omaha community that patronized their firm p4K has many alums whose educational p4K approach, whether as goal buddies, and in 1996 they put in place an idea called achievements and success illustrate the value of group mentors, or navigators. WINNERS CIRCLE at then-belvedere having mentors in their lives. elementary school. at the time north omaha “sometimes parents need help. we have parents public schools were lagging far behind in monique cribbs was a senior at omaha north high working three jobs just to keep food on the table student achievement. with a strong desire to fulfill her and her parents’ and a roof over their heads. over 90 percent of our dreams of going onto college but she didn’t see a kids qualify for free and reduced lunch-the borrowing from the incentives-based program way she could afford school, at least not right away. indicator of living at or below the federal poverty for employees used at the couple’s business, then a classmate in all our Kids introduced her to level. we have kids come through our program winners circle introduced motivational tools to mike yanney and that meeting led to him telling who are the first ones in their family to graduate help students set and achieve academic and her he saw great potential in her and promising he high school, let alone college. that’ s pretty startling. ” citizenship goals. adult volunteers called would pay for her college education. GOAL BUDDIES encouraged students to Gail Yanney says, “today, young people have so succeed. Quarterly celebrations recognized when her life took some unexpected turns in much more to contend with. that’s where the student success. as student achievement rose, mentor comes in. they have to have an adult that’s college and presented her with some hard the program moved into additional schools. challenges, such as becoming a young single been there, that has common sense, that can omaha’sJoining 2013forces mentor ofcollective the year, perhaps guide them through these perilous waters. mom, her grades suffered and she strongly for greater impact,tess in larson youth are hawa subject toibrahim all kinds of bad influences and considered leaving school. but enough caring with mentees: johnson, and 2007 allgabrielle our Kids andjones, winners danaya circle merged to create PARTNERSHIP 4 KIDS. we’d like to instill some good influences and give people in her life encouraged her to carry on.

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STORY BY LEO ADAM BIGA

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fostering life beyond limits

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My son’s an honor roll student and he’s already looking at colleges around the country. I love the fact I have taught him the power of education. ~ MONIQUE CRIBBS one of those caring people was mike yanney.

making your own decisions while at the same time finding that balance between what your mentors are saying to you and what you want to do. that takes time.

“I view mike as a father figure, a very caring, wise person,” cribbs says. “I remember going to his house and just crying. I told him I thought I would be dropped from the program. he said, ‘no “I think it’s amazing I met mike (yanney) when I matter what you do, we support you. monique, was 17 and I turn 37 in may, and he’s still there the scholarship will never leave you, we’re here and we still talk. I also still stay in contact with for you.’ and that meant so much to me. I had my former all our Kids president Julie hefflinger. I son in 1999 and went right back to school.” think that means a lot because it went from being a mentoring relationship to being a friendship. I she followed her bachelor’s degree in want them in my life. I appreciate them.” interpersonal communication from uno with a master’s in human relations from bellevue denbeck says the journey cribbs has taken is one university and is now pursuing a doctorate in of “many compelling stories of people who have educational leadership and higher education been in our program, graduated and are now from the university of nebraska-lincoln. after very successful.” she says cribbs epitomizes what stints at the omaha home for boys and bellevue happens when mentors enter a young person’s university she served as trio coordinator at life and help pull them forward. creighton university. today, she’s career services coordinator at metropolitan community college, cribbs does everything she can to give back to where she’s also an adjunct instructor. the program she says gave her so much. MONIQUE CRIBBS ACHIEVER • P4K ALUM

PHOTO BY LIGHT ILLUSIONS

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NERIS FRANCE P4K PROGRAM COORDINATOR

“there are days when it’s really hard for me, “monique spoke at last year’s senior banquet. her where I’m really overwhelmed and stressed out,” message was, ‘It’s going to be hard, life isn’t cribbs says, “but I know when I walk across the always fair or easy, but don’t ever give up.’” stage this next time it will have all been worth it. now the sky is the limit, there is nothing I Indeed, cribbs, who “was very honored to be the cannot do and one day I would like to be a vice keynote speaker,” says, “I spoke from my heart president or a president of a college.” about the power of education and my experiences in the program and in my life. I told today she’s doing for current students what was the truth, saying not everyone in this room will done for her. make it through college but at the same time you all have people who are here to support you “It’s always good to have that advocate in your and you have to align yourself with those who life to be able to talk about all sorts of things. I want to see you do well.” always want to have the ability to have contact with students but have the power to make her son cayden participated in p4K as a 7th and change in institutions. I feel I’m in my training 8th grader, one of several youth following in the ground right now.” footsteps of their parents in the program, and she’s grateful for what p4K and the mentors she he’s preparing to enter elkhorn mount michael in met provided her and continue to provide her 20 the fall. years later. “my son’s an honor roll student and he’s already “I’m so appreciative of the opportunities I’ve been looking at colleges around the country. I love the fact I have taught him the power of education given. these people truly are in your life, they and that his job is to go to school and do well truly care for you, and they’re also honest with and my job is to support him and be the role you as well. It’s important to have someone to model of continuing my education so he can’t tell you, ‘you’re messing up right now,’ or, ‘you’re say to me, ‘mom, I can’t do it,’ because I can say, not making wise decisions but I know you have to live your life.’ as a mentee it’s critical you listen ‘baby, you can, because I did. there’s nothing you and also realize you do have to go through life can’t do because I’m doing it.’“

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metroMagazine • The Spirit of Omaha

BREAKING BARRIERS AND BUILDING BRIDGES

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fosteringlife beyond limits

A helping hand

when it comes to mentors, the biggest thing is showing up. “being a good mentor is about being there,” denbeck says. “when you’re there consistently kids begin to get the sense that you care about them. that consistency is huge because some of these kids have had adults come and go in their lives all the time. the best thing a mentor can do is to care and to be consistent. Kids just want to know that you’ve got their back. “when that happens as our program coordinators can tell you, you see better behavior and better grades because their mentors help them create hope that there’s a brighter future.” at each participating school a paid p4K program coordinator serves as liaison, facilitator and resource for the school staff and volunteers.

“we work with every kid in 12 elementary schools through our goal setting program and from there students are selected to go into our after-school group mentoring program in middle and high school. the carrot at the end is that we provide a college scholarship.” “we do whatever we can to be a good partner with the schools helping these young people and schools be successful. they have to believe in what we do and we have to bring something of value to the table. having volunteers in your school is very healthy. It’s that co-connection of community and school.” ops head mark evans likes that p4K is in sync with his district.

“they are aligning student goals to school goals and district goals, which is really what we’re “our program coordinators are embedded more about right now with our whole strategic and more in the schools,” denbeck notes. “that planning process,” he says. “we see partnership 4 means they’re also doing some intensive case Kids aligning to what we’re trying to achieve, management with kids who need it the most. whether it’s nesa goals, attendance goals, our kids see our program coordinators at school graduation goals. this is just a great resource to every day. If we’re going to build relationships the more people see you the more they trust you. help us see that alignment and keep that focus and to have a community member there helping In some ways mentoring is as simple as giving our young people create those goals.” students guideposts to follow and work towards. miller park elementary school principal Lisa Utterback, whose school has seen academic achievement dramatically rise during her tenure and p4K’s immersion there, also likes that “the p4K program aligns strategically to what we’re doing,” adding, “we receive support from the goal buddies, the program coordinator and the p4K program by their presence in the building and their having positive communication with our students and encouraging them to stay the course.”

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BARB WILD FIELD CLUB ELEMENTARY PRINCIPAL PHOTO BY LIGHT ILLUSIONS

“people growing up in poverty and facing very difficult situations really need a lot of help and it isn’t money they need, they need opportunities, they need people to put their arm around them and encourage them and motivate them,” mike yanney says. “It’s about instilling hope and there’s every reason to have hope because in this great nation there are all kinds of jobs available, even today, but young people have to be educated to do those jobs.”

MARK EVANS OMAHA PUBLIC SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT

OPS Endorsed all of p4K’s work is done in step with its biggest partner, the Omaha Public Schools, whose students the program exclusively serves. therefore p4K’s goals mirror ops goals. as a school-based mentoring program we reinforce what the schools are doing,” denbeck says. “we work in partnership with omaha public schools and we’re a support group that’s giving these kids in-school and after-school support.

similarly, field club elementary school principal Barb Wild has seen increased student achievement at her school. she says p4K “is a part of that because it’s part of our school culture,” adding, “It’s integrated into what we’re doing with the acuity data and the state testing. It all connects. It’s not some vague just be good or just do better, it’s a very specific, laid-out thing students can attach to and take ownership of.”

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denbeck says, “we start early focusing on goal setting in math, reading and life skills. those are real indicators of educational success and life success. the skill of goal setting directly correlates to education. It’s really important kids learn how to do this and the teachers are the ones developing those goals with the kids.” p4K makes a big deal of students meeting goals at quarterly celebrations in the schools. “the celebration each quarter is a culmination of their success,” denbeck says. “they get to come up to the stage to get a medal and shake hands with the goal buddies. they’re recognized in front of the entire school. It’s really a schoolwide celebration of the achievement of students. It’s directly related to creating that hope that there’s a brighter future.” evans applauds p4K for recognizing student achievement. “I think the power of that is not that students are just getting an ‘attaboy’ or ‘attagirl’ but that it’s related to an accomplishment,” he says. “giving support to young people, letting them know we care and celebrating their success is fine but the research says you need something worth celebrating–meeting a goal of some kind–and that’s where the core piece is. they’re tying it into recognition of an accomplishment. that’s when I think it really has value. the things you value most are the things you work hard for.”

Building blocks p4K starts early getting kids to think about careers and college. “In 5th grade we conduct career tours as part of career exploration,” says denbeck. we want kids to see all the different career options available. these trips are made possible through our partner corporations and sponsors.”

LISA UTTERBACK MILLER PARK ELEMENTARY PRINCIPAL, WITH A PAIR OF HER P4K KIDS

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“our middle school program prepares kids for strengths-based leadership. every one of our kids goes through the STRENGTHS QUEST program at GALLUP to find out what their strengths are. Kids learn moral courage–how to stand up to bullying. they learn all those things that help build character and help in making good decisions. they learn financial vitality, they learn how to write a business plan and to

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The amount of people we touch and the lives we change and the results we have seen are pretty phenomenal. ~ DEB DENBECK, P4K PRESIDENT sell a product. they learn both business skills and personal skills. we also began taking our middle school students on several college visits. we want them to see college as a reality.” denbeck says one of the biggest indicators of whether a student will drop out of school is their experience in middle school. “It’s a very changing and defining time in a young person’s life–physically, mentally, emotionally, socially. It’s that whole adolescent change. In our program we address specific issues and lessons in various areas that will help these kids have the skills to succeed and transition to high school.

‘who needs us the most?’ and ‘where can we make the biggest impact?’ so we redesigned our program to be a K-9 program. why K-9? that gets you through the two biggest hurdles a young person goes through–from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school. those big transition years are so key.” p4K’s added formal partnerships with COLLEGE POSSIBLE, AVENUE SCHOLARS and TEAMMATES to aid in preparing students’ individual plans for life beyond high school and completing the continuum of care.

“we’ve grown and we want to continue to grow.” more donors and volunteers are needed to implement that growth. denbeck hopes that as more people volunteer with p4K and as more organizations partner with it the added support will follow. Volunteer coordinator Tracy Wells says the majority of p4K goal buddies and group mentors come from the corporate community and many return year after year. “I think the glue that keeps people coming back is that they feel like they’re making a difference and they are connecting to the relationships they build with youth.”

even as students move on into college p4K remains in their lives because of the scholarships “then, when they get to 9th grade we really talk they receive from the organization. p4K about what they need to do to graduate. we put a plan together of how they can succeed through continues to be an ongoing resource to help keep students on track. Earl Redrick, a group mentor for four youth at high school. as our kids go into their freshman norris middle school, says, “It is about year we call our volunteer mentors, navigators. “ we’re now working on establishing college relationships and having impact on the lives of they work with groups on those skills students campus groups to provide peer-to-peer young folks. having a mentor, whether both need to succeed in high school. they look more mentoring,” denbeck says. parents are in the home or not, is proven to have seriously at career exploration and shadow some remarkable and positive results on the mentors at their workplaces. we’re always putting p4K also has informal partnerships with many development of kids.” he knows from personal careers and college in front of them.” other youth serving organizations, such as the experience the difference mentoring makes trio programs, upward bound and urban league because of the direction he received as a youth navigators meet with the same large group of of nebraska to give students more options for at youth serving organizations in his native san 9th graders twice a month after school in a finding the right niche for where they’re at and classroom setting and at least once per month antonio, texas. what they need. outside of school. an employee with the omaha office of the u.s. high school students are given college access “It takes some skill to get kids to trust and operate support via act preparation, admissions department of housing and urban development, in a group setting,” denbeck says. “ there’s application ins and outs, financial aid resources and redrick says he goes the extra mile with his always time set aside for mentor-mentee mentees, including regular saturday outings, scholarship opportunities. students are offered relationship building and conversation, which is “because I know the rewards these guys get will workshops in various professions, job readiness combined in tandem with a structured seminars and summer internship opportunities. go a long ways in life.” curriculum. outings are reflective of what’s taught in the classroom. we also have a lot of A proven model wells says p4K could always use more fun group activities. we try to broaden their every student’s path to success includes volunteers from the professional ranks like cultural experience because some don’t get someone who helped them along the way and redrick. she’d also like to recruit more retirees those opportunities very often.” denbeck says she’s proud to lead a program like patti Quinn-mcgovern, who began as a goal with a 25-year history of helping kids follow buddy at field club elementary school while although p4K programming strives to provide a their dreams. employed at omaha public power district and comprehensive pathway to success for students she and two fellow oppd retirees have kept right they also believe in community collaboration. “the amount of people we touch, the lives we on volunteering. change and the results we have are pretty phenomenal. Knowing that we graduate 100 “we use these other resources to help students “being a mentor is very fulfilling and rewarding,” percent of kids with 90 percent going on to get up that ladder,” denbeck explains. “as a says Quinn-mcgovern. “I can just be standing college and seven of our schools exceeding nonprofit you cannot be everything to every here and children will come up and give me standards in reading and math tells us we’re single person, so a year ago our board of some hugs. who can turn that away?” doing a lot of things right.” directors asked two specific questions:

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profiles OF partnership Brittany Gossett

BRITTANY GOSSETT ACHIEVER • P4K ALUM

PHOTO BY LIGHT ILLUSIONS

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PAT QUINN-MCGOVERN P4K GOAL BUDDY

whIle a 7th grade student at mcmIllan mIddle school brIttany gossett couldn’t escape a school counselor who wanted her to apply to one of the two forerunner programs that merged to form partnershIp 4 KIds. seemingly every time the counselor saw gossett she was championing the mentoring and scholarship resources of all our Kids (aoK) as a not-to-be-missed opportunity. gossett didn’t know what to make of it all, little knowing the program would propel her on a path of success. “she kept pestering me, ‘did you fill out the application?’ finally, I filled it out and the program’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had,” says gossett, now 24, who learned a valuable lesson about seizing opportunities when they’re presented that she’s never forgotten. today, gossett, who with the guidance of a personal mentor went on to graduate from omaha central high school and the university of nebraskalincoln, is employed by one of partnership 4 Kids’ newest collaborators, college possible. the mission of college possible is to get students to college by helping them navigate admission, financial aid and scholarship applications. once students make it there the organization assigns them a coach to support them through the post-secondary experience, on through graduation and into their career. gossett conducts workshops for middle and high school students to encourage them to start thinking about and preparing for college. she sees her work as a way of giving back for what others did for her. “I had a mentor in marsha marron. she met me when I was in 8th grade at monroe middle school and she stuck with me all through high school and college. she did a lot of things with me. we went out to eat. every year she would let me go school shopping for supplies. she brought me gifts at christmas. “most of all, she encouraged me. we would talk most every monday. we do stay in touch even now. It was important having her in my life because my school wasn’t the best environment all the time and I kind of needed an extra push. when people around you are behaving badly you can get sucked into it and I needed somebody to give me guidance and structure and that’s what she provided. I always had my own mind but she was that extra push to say, ‘you need to stay on this path so that you can get to college and be successful in life.’ she was that extra help to give me a reason to be successful.” In her current work gossett plays a similar role for students starving for the same kind of encouragement and guidance she needed.

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Success Stories

“the thing that keeps me motivated to help students is that I can relate to them. I want to help students because I know they have potential and sometimes they just need the extra push like I did. these students are very hard working but sometimes they get beat up by life. a lot of the students we work with come from homes where the parents are not supportive, where they’re talked down to. some kids can’t even walk outside their house safely. “you just have to give them a chance and look beyond what the situation around them is and see their heart and who they are as a person. we get to know them personally. these students sometimes just need somebody to be supportive of them and try to understand where they’re coming from. they just may need somebody to pat them on the back and say, ‘great job.’”

Monique Cribbs more than a decade earlIer, monIQue crIbbs started her Journey wIth the program near the end of her senIor year at north hIgh school.the only reason she came to it at all was that a classmate in the program suggested that she speak to its founder, michael yanney. cribbs did and it changed her life. “at the end of the conversation mike said, ‘monique, I see great potential in you and I want to help you and I will give you a full-ride scholarship to college,” cribbs recalls. “so I became a part of the program. It was unorthodox because they were starting with kids in 5th or 6th grade and I came in at 12th grade. I had a mentor and I started doing all the same type of activities the other students were doing. “we graduated that may and two weeks later my friend and I went to bridge, a summer institute at unl for promising scholars from across the state.” the start of her college experience that fall was far from a smooth ride. she didn’t get along with her first mentor. she didn’t much like taking other people’s advice. her grades slipped. then after transferring from unl to uno, she got pregnant. “there were a few bumps in the road. It was just a rocky time. I was young and I thought I knew everything.” she feared she’d blown her chance. but even after those false starts and detours her education was paid for as promised. she’s gone onto great academic achievement and career success with aoK founder mike yanney and former director Julie hefflinger as her mentors. “when you have people in your corner who support you and encourage you even when you go through those different highs and lows they help to keep you motivated,” says cribbs.

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STORY BY LEO ADAM BIGA

p4k alums credit mentoring for setting them on path of success she says the power of p4K is that it puts people in your life who affirm that anything is possible. “having other like-minded people around you is very important because it’s very easy to say I can’t and so I won’t,” she says. In a higher education career that has her helping students find their path in school and in life, she makes a point of using her own achievements to illustrate what perseverance and mentoring can do. “every time you pass a milestone it’s worth it to tell someone else about the process. It’s worth it to share your story with someone and to encourage someone to carry on as well.” today, cribbs is a role model for her son cayden, a p4K participant himself. she wants her example of being a high achieving woman of color from the inner city to inspire urban youth like her son to not be limited by stereotypes. her desire is squarely in line with p4K’s premise that circumstances may make one’s road more challenging but they don’t have to define you or to curtail your expectations. she discovered what p4K professes is true–there are human and capital resources available to help you succeed no matter what your story. “my son is another motivation for me,” she says. “I am a first generation college student from north omaha and there are so many stereotypes about kids who grew up there and I always said. ‘I don’t want to be that stereotype. when I was pregnant I thought, I am that stereotype now, but I wanted to break out of that box and that’s why I continued to push. yes, I am a product of north omaha, I am a first generation college student, I have two degrees under my belt, I’m in graduate school, I have a son who’s an honor roll student who enjoys school and talks about going onto college. “so you can break through people’s perceptions, you can do whatever it is you would like to do and there are people here to support you. you just have to continue to push.”

Jeff Russell twenty-fIVe years ago Jeff russell was a student at then-mcmIllan JunIor hIgh when school counselors and staff recommended hIm as a prospect for all our KIds. mike yanney launched the program there because at the time his niece served as principal at the school. the idea was to give underachieving young people the mentoring support needed to get them through school and to pay their way to college. the way the program worked at the beginning, russell and his fellow mentees all met one-on-one with yanney before he matched them with employees of his company, burlington capital group. at a certain point mike and his wife gail began mentoring select participants in what came to be informally known as yanney’s Kids. “I was originally paired with gary thompson, then dave Vana, but ultimately I had many more throughout as everyone in the program seemed to have a helping hand,” russell recalls.

having a mentor, russell says, meant having “someone we could talk to, seek homework help from, establish goals with. they helped us along our journey through school. staying with the program meant support all the way through college.” “I soon started a summer job at mr. yanney’s house working for my next informal mentor, ned Kaup, who showed me the ropes and prepared me to manage the place while he moved on in his life. “I would have to say though that in the years I was with the yanneys they were mentoring me the most to become who I am today. they promoted me as a manager of their place, which showed me the leadership skills I didn’t know I possessed. we developed a strong relationship and I was able to see they are two of the most giving people I have ever met and genuinely love and care for the people they help and surround themselves with.” he says p4K “showed me I have options–I can achieve what I put my mind to.”the combination of a strong home life and the program he says, mitigated against the “bad influences” around him growing up. until he came to the program he says, “I did not think I had a chance for college.” he pursued but did not finish a horticulture degree. russell is married with two boys and works as a nuclear security officer at the fort calhoun (neb.) nuclear generating station. he’s pursuing an industrial electronics degree that he plans to use in becoming an electrician with oppd. the yanneys, who still regard the people they mentored as “our kids,” take great satisfaction in seeing them succeed. “Jeff had every opportunity to fall into a crack,” says gail yanney, “but he was willing to listen and he tried and he essentially has now a piece of the american dream. he has a wonderful partner, he has a good job that he can advance in, he has wonderful children. “monique (cribbs) has not only a fabulous education and career but she has raised a really beautiful young man who will go on to be a productive citizen.” cribbs, russell and brittany gossett are the p4K promise fulfilled. “they’ve got hope and they’re going where they want to go and they’re getting themselves there,” says gail yanney. “I guess that’s the stuff that makes you proud. some of them still have hills to climb but they’re climbing them.” “we’re very proud of them,” mike yanney says. “they’ve really done some great work. they had some adverse situations but they’ve really risen to the top.” perhaps Jeff russell sums up best what it means to have mentors in your life with, “the guidance from these individuals is priceless. although I am not exactly where I planned to be I have gone far in my goals and have not given up.”

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PARTNERSHIP4KIDS

It was important having her in my life because my school wasn’t the best environment all the time and I kind of needed an extra push. ~ BRITTANY GOSSETT

... When you have people in your corner who support you and encourage you even when you go through those different highs and lows they help to keep you motivated. ~ MONIQUE CRIBBS

... The guidance from these individuals is priceless. Although I am not exactly where I planned to be I have gone far in my goals and have not given up. ~ JEFF RUSSELL

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p4k volunteers help students to set goals and local schools to thrive

support system

there’s somethIng oddly perfect about a scene unfoldIng each Quarter In the hallways at fIeld club and mIller parK elementary schools. outside the classrooms they’re assigned volunteer GOAL BUDDIES squirm their way into school desks far too small for their adults bodies and hunch over to meet the eyes of the children they serve. one by one the students file outside the classroom into the hall to sit down and meet with their goal buddy. not surprisingly, some children must be coaxed to speak while others must be urged to quiet down. a team of three goal buddies are assigned to each classroom. they work in tandem with teachers in encouraging students to set and meet school and district goals for reading, math and life skills. each of these informal mentors provides another attentive, sympathetic set of eyes and ears and gives comforting hugs and words to students in need of some extra love and inspiration.

so it goes in this hallmark early education piece of partnership 4 Kids, the omaha nonprofit that sends the volunteers into the schools on visits designed to help kids achieve. the model’s working, too, because the schools, one in south omaha and the other in north omaha, are both seeing major gains in student achievement on standardized tests. the schools are among seven buildings p4K operates in that report rising student performance and the goal is to duplicate those results in the other schools where p4K’s active. Patti Quinn-McGovern has been a goal buddy at FIELD CLUB for several years. she started when still employed at oppd and she’s continued volunteering there since her retirement. oppd is one of 29 organizations and companies that feed volunteers to the program. where some schools have p4K volunteers from several sources, field club has a designated corporate sponsor in oppd, which has more than 50 employees volunteering at the school for its 600-plus students. “we are really fortunate to have oppd as a partner in this collaboration with partnership 4 Kids here,” says field club principal barb wild. “they do an awesome job.” each p4K school has a program coordinator to serve as a bridge between the program, the volunteers and the school. at field club it’s neris france. at miller park it’s Kris morgan. wild is a fan of how p4K emphasizes the same goals as the school. “every student makes a reading, math and life skills goal for each quarter. we have them connect those short-term goals to lifetime goals. achieving those short-term goals gets them steps closer to long- term goals and success beyond middle school and high school.” at MILLER PARK principal Lisa Utterback says p4K “has been very consistent and on point with supporting our school’s mission of success. we’ve taken their program and aligned it to what we’re doing and it’s an added support system and incentive program for our students.” she says, “we are all about goal setting and the importance of students understanding this is what I want to attain and this is the plan to get there. we have empowered our students to own their goals and to accept responsibility for their actions. we firmly believe one of our most important goals is creating a sense of hope and empowerment in our children– that if they set their goals and work hard to accomplish their goals great things can happen. we know it’s our duty to make sure kids understand that even though we’re faced with adversity and we have obstacles in our life we can overcome anything if we

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... Field Club • Miller Park set goals, work hard and stay the course. hope is the essential ingredient in everything we do.” wild says each goal buddy plays a valuable role because they’re “one more person that that child knows cares about them and is invested in their success. there’s a little bit of accountability to the goal buddies, too. that student knows they’re going to meet with and talk to that goal buddy about the progress they’re making or not making in that goal and the goal buddy is going to talk in a very loving, nurturing, caring way about being accountable to making your goals.” “It’s giving that consistent message from several different perspectives,”“ wild says. Quinn-mcgovern says she volunteers because “I believe strongly in the idea of goal setting and teaching kids this is what you can do and here’s the reward.” academic goals aside, she says, “I think the life skills goal is really important. It’s common sense, it’s practical. we talk about setting various goals in life. It’s a way to talk about real life in a school situation that I think can be really effective over time. It’s personal, too, it’s not just let’s get down to business. we talk about them individually. we learn about their family situation. we’re just another person to listen to them and to support them.” the 17 goal buddies serving miller park’s nearly 400 students come from lozier corporation and metropolitan community college. lisa utterback joins with other educators in feeling fortunate to have dedicated volunteers at her school. “our goal buddies are consistent. some have been working with our school for years and they’re invested in the success of this school. the kids know who they are and call them by name. I’m telling you it makes a difference in the life of a child especially when there is consistency. some even come in outside their scheduled time to just to see how they’re doing . they come on field trips with the classes they’re assigned. they come and celebrate our goal achievements.” Neris France says p4K is most effective where it’s most warmly embraced by principals and staff, such as at miller park and field club. once a school is on board, she says, then it’s all about the volunteers. “the volunteers are critical. they love what they do. they love that we give students hope and get to be role models who inspire them. I get inspired by the students every day. they inspire me and our volunteers to do our job because we want them to do good, we want them to succeed. “we share a passion to get the kids to experience the opportunities we’ve been given in life.”

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STORY BY LEO ADAM BIGA

p4k enlists the power of caring adults and matches these volunteers with students

Earl • Angel

partnering up

has a defined set of goals and objectives they want to get to with the kids by a certain point. that’s really impressive. “It’s led by the mentors but these guys really drive the conversation. some days they are really, really good and some days I have to twist and grind a little bit harder to get what we need out of them, but it’s good.” as for the saturday outings, he says, “they’re part educational, part recreational,” adding, “there’s a lot of fun incorporated but there’s other stuff we do that are teachable moments. for example, we went to an event in south omaha celebrating various cultures. probably the biggest teaching moment we did for these guys was go to the homeless shelter, where they served lunch. that was a big deal. seeing those folks has an affect on the soul. we had some serious dialogue after that. It was really good.” redrick also accompanied the boys to a career fair. he makes the boys’ participation in saturday trips, whether going to the movies or exploring the old market, contingent on them doing what they’re supposed to be doing in school. “these guys are really smart and any grade under c to me is unacceptable. I told them at the start. ‘If you do your part I’ll do my part in showing

you whatever you want to do.’ so they have to be accountable and get their grades. one of the kids didn’t go with us one weekend because his grades were not what they were supposed to be.” angel says he appreciates all that earl does for him and his buddies, especially “helping us to meet our goals, pass our classes, and keep ourselves together when bad things happen in school and things are going to be stressful, like when we take tests.” he adds, “I consider him a teacher. when he comes to the school he teaches us things we didn’t know before and he encourages us. he’s helped me talk to my parents more. Instead of just saying yes or no, I’m being honest and trusting to tell them whenever I feel bad.” angel, who has two older brothers, is being raised by his mother, who’s separated from his father. she works long hours at a greenhouse to support the family. although angel’s always liked school and gotten good grades, he says going to college has become a definite goal with affirming adults like earl in his life helping to keep him focused and motivated. for someone who hopes one day to design and build things for a living, he’s getting the help he needs to build a successful life.

I consider him a teacher. He teaches us things we didn’t know before and he encourages us.

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He’s helped me talk to my parents more.

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Instead of just saying yes or no, I’m being honest and trusting to [communicate with] them. ~ ANGEL

special edition

PARTNERSHIP4KIDS

PHOTO BY LIGHT ILLUSIONS

Earl Redrick sIgned up to be a partnershIp 4 KIds group mentor last summer and after a full school year worKIng wIth a Quartet of males at norrIs mIddle school he’s eager to worK wIth them agaIn come the fall. GROUP MENTORS like redrick make a twoyear commitment to the program, pledging to mentor the same group of three or four students as they progress through 7th and 8th grade. one of his mentees is angel, a 12-year-old who learned about p4K from some schoolmates. he’s found the program’s emphasis on goal setting helpful. “I’ve learned how to set goals and why achieving them will help me. when you meet your goals you get more confidence in yourself that you’ll do other things.” the power of mentoring is well known to redrick, a u.s. department of housing and urban development employee who has experience being a mentor with BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS in his native san antonio, texas and with other organizations in the dallas-fort worth area. growing up, redrick benefited from being mentored himself. “my dad worked a lot so my uncle was probably my first mentor but I was always involved in the BOYS AND GIRLS CLUB and the YMCA. there were always mentors there. then when I got into sports the coaches were always there to serve as role models and mentors.” redrick, who’s relatively new to omaha, says a presentation he attended about p4K peaked his interest to become involved. “what caught my attention was the data they’re recording and reporting back on. some of the outcomes are pretty phenomenal.” p4K is an outcomes-based program that utilizes research in designing its structured curriculum that parallels what the schools are teaching. like every p4K volunteer redrick filled out an application and a background check was done on him. then he went through the two-hour training p4K conducts. he’s since attended some p4K workshops, including one on how poverty affects youth. since august he’s been meeting regularly with angel and his classmates after school and getting together for saturday outings he leads them on to broaden and enrich their experiences. “we’ve had some great times,” redrick says. “these guys bring a lot of energy to the meetings. It’s really interactive. we talk about very useful topics around what’s important to kids at their age going forward. the partnership does a great job of laying that out for us. the program coordinator sends us mentors that stuff in advance so we can prepare ourselves. It’s a very structured program which really

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metroMagazine • The Spirit of Omaha

BREAKING BARRIERS AND BUILDING BRIDGES

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transforming COMMUNITIES

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weighing in

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Mike & Gail Yanney • Mark Evans • Tim Burke

a high school diploma, much less a college degree. “back in the 1960s and ‘70s when kids had gaps like language skills they dropped out and no one worried about it. the dropout rate before then was 50 percent and greater but it wasn’t a problem because there was plenty of jobs for a high school dropout. you could go right to work at factories with good living wage jobs with health benefits, a pension program. but about the time of the ‘80s it changed. ever since then you’re not getting a factory job without a high school diploma. In fact, now we expect a little college or a post-secondary certificate. those manufacturing jobs of the past don’t exist anymore.” at the same time, he says, youth in need of special language training either “didn’t go to school or dropped out because we didn’t have any services for them,” adding, “In today’s world we can’t do that – there’s no throwaway young people and they have to have an education. In our district right now we’re at a 77.8 percent graduation rate, and I credit p4K and other programs like it in helping us achieve that.” socIety’s shIftIng cultural compact wIth schools and school dIstrIcts asKs them to proVIde eVer more serVIces for an IncreasIng number of youth presentIng greater educatIonal and lIfe sKIlls needs. the delivery of expanded services to districts like the omaha public schools can only be realized with the help of community partners such as partnership 4 Kids, says ops superintendent Mark Evans. “with an enrollment of 51,000-plus and growing, not only is ours a big district, which creates some challenges, we have more and more free and reduced (lunch) students who qualify for the federal poverty line, and we know that brings with it some extra challenges,” evans says. “we have an increasing number of english as second language learners. we have a growing number of refugee families. four years ago there were 800 refugees in ops from somalia, sudan, burma, (myanmar now), and today that number is 2,000. that’s 2,000 young people not only with language barriers but huge cultural barriers because a refugee camp in sudan is nothing like omaha, neb. “we also have more young people coming to us with neighborhood issues we need community input with. partnering with community groups makes a big difference with those extra challenges a young person has. Increasing needs create extra challenges that task the school district and the community to respond to because we’re trying to fill in gaps in many situations. community organizations like p4K are just critical because we’re filling in more gaps than we have before.” evans says schools are tasked to do more in this no-child-left-behind era when there’s no longer the economic safety net of plentiful jobs that don’t require

Schools welcome community support educating all youth to be prepared for today’s environment is a job bigger than any school district can handle alone. while he says the ops graduation rate “is pretty high for an urban setting, the truth is we’ve got to be higher than that – we’ve got to be over 80 and be moving toward 90 because if they don’t have a high school diploma today the research abundantly shows the opportunities in life are so slim. It’s difficult.” he says p4K’s continuum of care model that follows students from kindergarten through college “is what you’re looking for,” though he adds, “I always say it doesn’t have to be college. I want them to have post-secondary training in something, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a certified electrician, for example.” that continuum of care is strengthened, he says, when community partners work in step with schools and school districts, just as p4K does with ops, in delivering consistent expectations for youth educational attainment. “If we’re all aligned, that’s where we get the power,” evans says. there’s nothing new about community resources flowing into schools but as student needs become more urgent and complex the informal adopt-aschool relationships of the past are evolving into more formalized, intensive collaborations. OMAHA PUBLIC POWER DISTRICT Vice president for customer service and public affairs Tim Burke is a strong advocate for p4K’s work in the schools and for other community partners like oppd

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doing their part in the mosaic of educating and inspiring youth to succeed. burke knows first-hand the need for pairing caring adults with at-risk students from serving as a p4K goal buddy himself. “In some of these young kids’ situations this can be the only positive reinforcement they get about continuing school, about continuing education, continuing that pursuit of growth and development,” he says. “It could be the only positive reinforcer to continue down that path. partnership 4 Kids gives these kids hope that they can pursue whatever they want to pursue. “I think we truly are making a difference. we are that light, that hope, that opportunity for that student.” Mentors make a difference burke, who serves on the p4K board and chairs its development committee, says the partnership fills an ever growing need, which is why he encourages adults to volunteer as mentors. “we could always use more volunteers doing this. It’s not a shortage of kids needing assistance but there is a shortage of volunteers willing to make that commitment. the community went on a mentoring campaign last fall and it may be doing that again this year to grow these kinds of volunteers to do this work. there’s always an opportunity to serve more kids. now’s the time to have this conversation around it in the community.” burke echoes evans of ops along with p4K president Deb Denbeck in championing the greater collective impact being made now that organizations like the partnership and other community players are “aligning and doing more things together,” adding, “I think that’s great for the community.” burke says p4K has been embraced at oppd for a full decade and his colleagues tell him it’s because they believe in the difference they’re making. “It has been one of those corporate initiatives that people get really excited about. you never really know what impact you make with these kids but every time there’s an opportunity to show it these kids will come up give you a hug and show appreciation for what you’re trying to do to help them do the things they want to do. It’s incredibly rewarding to see their growth and development or the way somebody comes out of their shell to look you in the eye or shake your hand at the end of the school year where they didn’t do that before. “It’s that kind of feedback that really engages our employees in the work of the partnership in helping these kids move through the most critical time in their life. our organization has a strong commitment to it. our participation rates are very high in people coming back time after time after time.”

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BREAKING BARRIERS AND BUILDING BRIDGES STORY BY LEO ADAM BIGA

community leaders, corporate partners and volunteers embrace p4k in supporting improved school and student achievement, and seek new community partners as vital collaborators with schools

p4K Volunteer coordinator tracy wells says the nonprofit has up to 70 percent retention of its overall volunteer base, “which is really good and something we don’t take for granted and always need to work on.” ops superintendent mark evans says in those buildings where everything comes together in terms of administrative leadership, classroom teaching, youth serving organizations like p4K, volunteers from the community and parental involvement, student achievement soars. two of several schools where p4K and its volunteers are contributing to verifiable student success are miller park and field club elementary schools. P4K and growing needs evans says, “they’re high performing schools, both of them, with high quality leaders who lead schools showing significant gains in student achievement and success. Kids leave their doors ready for middle school and the next steps.” he says those schools are doing it despite having to respond to extra needs expressed by students and they’re making it happen by getting the community involved. “we do need to reach out to our community because we’ve got increasing needs. the young people didn’t ask to be at the poverty level or to be a refugee, it’s just where they are.” being responsive to these needs requires a multifaceted approach. “It’s not just us – it’s programmatic support, it’s us reaching out to our parents and families, but it’s also community members supporting our young people.” “ we know the more parents are involved, the deeper investment they have, the program works even better,” says p4K president deb denbeck. “we invite parents to all our celebrations and special events. we want families to be even more involved.”

“I think omaha has a really good chance of making serious progress with a fairly large number of kids and frankly that’s part of our being a very good, caring community. “you can look at all the work the SHERWOOD FOUNDATION and Susie Buffett are doing and that the loziers and the weitz’s and the scotts are doing. there are organizations very heavily involved in it – GIRLS INC., TEAMMATES, the BOYS AND GIRLS CLUB. It’s really incredible. all of this collaborating together is coalescing into a fine beautiful program and sooner or later we’ll start seeing some extensive changes in our community and I’m very hopeful for it.”

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TIM BURKE OPPD VICE PRESIDENT FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS

p4K mentoring model co-founder Gail Yanney, who has mentored many young people alongside him, says, “when you consider the number of children who need a meaningful adult in their lives there are way too many of them for us not to be all working together. there’s plenty of this to go around. everybody approaches it from kind of their own way of doing things but the ultimate thing is you’re giving a kid the opportunity to see the value in themselves and the value in becoming a useful citizen.” mike yanney is grateful things have evolved from when he started the precursor of p4K, all our Kids, 25 years ago, when it was nearly alone in its formal mentoring model. “one of the great things today is that there are a number of organizations really working aggressively to help these kids turn their lives around and they’re starting to collaborate with each other,”yanney says.

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PARTNERSHIP4KIDS

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transforming COMMUNITIES

partnership4kids

... unfinished business the phenomenal results of p4k thus far lays a foundation for hope that the alliance for getting kids to graduate and onto college and career success can reach many more youth in need, while the program’s leaders know that only a beginning has been made, and in order to truly transform the lives of those in need, increasing support and an expanded corps of donors-volunteers must be enlisted

the orIgIns of PARTNERSHIP 4 KIDS extends bacK to the late 1980s, a perIod when a socIetal sea change began posIng added challenges to Inner cIty schools and communItIes. as social and educational disparities have grown over time, omaha has become a microcosm for a nationwide phenomena that poses increasing challenges for young people and their families attempting to craft meaningful lives. educators, elected representatives and community leaders have worked long and hard to offer programs and services that attempt to address these issues and needs. p4K has been at the forefront of efforts to provide mentoring and scholarship support to young people at risk of being left behind. much progress has been made in closing gaps and affording opportunities.

By the numbers since 2012, one hundred percent of p4K students have graduated high school. p4K leaders say that more than 90 percent of its graduates from 2012 and 2013 report being enrolled in college or post-secondary training for the 20142015 school year. of the 36 active seniors graduating in 2014, 33 will be attending a twoyear or four-year college, with the other three graduates enlisting in the u.s. army reserves . A pair of 2014 graduating seniors epitomize the continuum care model p4K delivers.

I know we could expand this program to greater heights…. There will always be families and youth needing an extra boost or helping hand. ~ DEB DENBECK, P4K PRESIDENT she’s volunteered for the american red cross, open door mission, house of hope and project seed. she plans to attend the university of nebraska at omaha and major in bioinformatics. she’s awaiting word on various scholarships. Daisy Robeldo, who’s graduating from omaha south high school, has been involved in p4K programming since middle school and has not missed a p4K meeting in two years, she’s also been active in various community service projects and volunteers at the latino center of the midlands. The oldest of six children from a single mother, she will be a first generation college student when she attends uno in the fall to pursue her intended major of computer engineering. moore and robledo will follow the trend of p4K students, the vast majority of whom go on to attend in-state colleges.

Serena Moore, who’s graduating from omaha central high school, has been involved in p4K Over its 25-year history 83 recipients of since elementary school, when she was in the winner’s circle goal setting program. she’s been p4K’s all our Kids foundation scholarship have graduated college. some have gone on to earn a group mentoring participant since 8th grade. advanced degrees. many other p4K students omaha’sshe’s 2013 year,bound tess larson also mentor been involvedofin the the upward have also hawa graduatedibrahim college with the help of with mentees: gabrielle jones,delta danaya johnson, and math and science program, g.e.m.s and different funding and scholarship sources. the unmc high school alliance.

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Doing and seeking more what was once an arena of agencies, players and programs all doing their own thing has become a more collaborative sharing ground. p4K is the direct result of two programs, all our Kids and winners circle, coming together to make a greater collective impact and now with its newest partners, college possible, avenue scholars and teammates, plus other informal partners, p4K is poised to impact more and more students along that continuum from kindergarten through careers. p4K president deb denbeck says with more volunteers and donors, “I know we could expand this program to greater heights” and into more schools, especially more middle schools. she adds, “there will always be families and youth needing an extra boost or helping hand. before we look at expansion we’re going to do a two-year review process to make sure our programs are the very best they can be and we’re going to learn where we need to go next.” “growth in a mentoring organization means dollars and it means volunteers,” she says. “Volunteers are the heart of our organization. they are like precious gems here. we’re not a mentoring organization unless we have them. they’re so needed. they’re the real difference-makers.”

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metroMagazine • The Spirit of Omaha STORY BY LEO ADAM BIGA

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transforming COMMUNITIES

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BREAKING BARRIERS AND BUILDING BRIDGES

How To Volunteer Relationships are truly the HEART of the matter and one caring adult is all it takes to get started! Please consider investing your heart and a bit of time with elementary students in our goal setting program, or with 7th, 8th or 9th grade students in our group mentoring program. EVEN MORE FUN WITH FRIENDS! Grab a group of colleagues and form a volunteer team. Put your friendship in action, magic might happen!

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QUESTIONS? CONTACT OUR RECRUITMENT TEAM: Tracy Wells, Director of Volunteer Resources 402-930-3095 or twells@p4k.org Julie Madsen, Recruitment Coordinator 402-930-3084 or jmadsen@p4k.org After an initial conversation, our team would be happy to help you find the mentoring experience that is the perfect fit for you. Fear not, our training and support will ensure that you have the tools you need to get started as a P4K mentor. For more details about other donor and volunteer opportunities with the organization, visit www.p4k.org.

THE NEXT GENERATION OF YOUTH IN NEED AWAITS THE NEXT GENERATION OF THOSE WHO CAN HELP THEM TRANSFORM THE FUTURE OF THEIR COMMUNITIES

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metroMAGAZINE • JUNE 2014


Specialeditionp4k 2014