Community support keeps local youth program alive
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By C. Jayden Smith
As a program that prides itself on teaching its participants to use creativity and be strong advocates, leaders at AIM High have had to chart an uncertain path to continue reaching young minds post-pandemic.
Formerly operated as Thrive Alive as part of the Community Outreach Alliance, the program has gotten a fresh start in recent months thanks to the Noble Path Foundation, and it’s looking forward to continuing its resurgence with an upcoming summer series.
AIM High, an acronym Advocacy, Inspiration and Mentoring, has been in practice since 2017. The program takes students through a seven-week experience that aims to prepare them for life by encouraging them to have deep conversations and have leaders around the San The Clemente community talks to them.
According to Teri Steel, the program’s executive director, a series of events led to their partnership with the Noble Path Foundation.
In October 2018, Talega Life Church, the host of the COA and Thrive Alive program, closed as program leaders decided they wanted their model to go in a different direction. With the help of the San Clemente community, Thrive Alive operated in different locations before settling in the Baha’i Center.
COA’s Food Connection program also operated at the center and served people who needed food well during the early stages of the pandemic in 2020.
Needing to change Thrive Alive’s approach to best reach their program’s 15 participants, they created the “Project Pandemic Override” which consisted of Zoom meetings without being able to meet in person.
This format worked for a while, with input from the Orange County Health Care Agency, San Clemente Wellness and Prevention Center, and other agencies.
“As we went on that year, the teenagers started to get frustrated because there was nothing in person, and they were already taking online Zoom classes for school,” said Steel. “At the end of 2020 and into 2021, we were also unable to sustain funding for this. So we had to let the staff go.
Steel further explained that the staff were let go because the program’s sponsors and other nonprofits were scrambling to try to figure out how to survive in this time.
Around August and September of last year, the program met with a local strategist, through whom it became clear that Thrive Alive would have to operate on its own due to the necessary costs associated with senior management and volunteer vetting through background checks.
Steel approached Cindy Juncal, founder of the Noble Path Foundation, whom she has come to know over the years during their time in the nonprofit community, about Thrive Alive’s uncertain future. Juncal offered that his organization fund the costs of the program and facilities and help restore it to its former level.
The interaction was a “very exciting time,” according to Steel.
“Of course I was thrilled because we were able to save a lot of children in our community,” she said of the opportunity to move forward.
Steel worked with agency OneOC to transfer the intellectual property that belonged to the fully-registered Thrive Alive brand.
“We transferred them all to the Noble Path Foundation, and then we could not miss anything with these children,” she said. “A lot of them came through Thrive Alive, and they were very excited to be able to reunite in person again.”
With a grant from the Orange County Workforce Development Board, AIM High was able to bring program alumni back to work for them.
Such actions aim to improve the lives of children who pass through the system, as well as Friday night hangouts and Monday beach cleanups that provide participants with healthy environments in which to spend time.
The transition process was emotional for Steel, who helped create the initial system and had no idea where they would go next. The support from local San Clemente organizations such as the Rotary Club of San Clemente and the Junior Women’s Club has been “incredible.”
“This community really supports these kids, and right now more than ever, I believe these kids need it,” Steel said.
She added that she doesn’t believe the program would have survived without the efforts of Juncal and the Noble Path Foundation.
The summer series will kick off on June 15, when participants will learn about nutrition and wellness from the Noble Path Foundation itself. The following topics include teen dating and healthy relationships; Ability to cope with physical and emotional stress; Self-esteem and social media; Life lessons; trendy drug culture; and Leadership Development and Certification.
A feature of the AIM High series includes changing leadership speakers from previous to next. Don Juncal, President of OBEY Clothing Brand, will speak, giving students the chance to hear from a key member of a popular clothing company.
By maintaining a social media presence and hosting events that introduce families and potential participants, the program is able to continue spreading its message.
“Our hope is (that they) become confident in themselves (learning leadership abilities) with tools, (and) that if they have mental health issues, or are leaning towards addiction , they will see that they have the ability to reach out to someone for help,” Steel said.
She also said that by teaching students how to cook for themselves, save money and remember that they are not completely alone, AIM High can lead them on the right path to pursuing a profession. or continuing education that prepares them for a fruitful life. without the desire for drugs and alcohol.
C. Jayden Smith
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism at the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothers his black lab named Shadow.
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