Nonprofit aims to expand its help for metro youth with school, work

A gala Sunday marking 20 years of Youth V.I.B.E. will celebrate the nonprofit and its success helping more than 5,000 Atlanta-area students with school work and preparing for the job market.

Founder Waleed Shamsid-Deen said the event at the Trolley Barn, 963 Edgewood Avenue NE, also serves to jump-start the next phase in the organization’s history: sending students on overseas field trips to expose them to what’s possible if they think big.

“We’re really excited about growth and expansion,” he said. “When you look at the young peoples’ eyes and see that someone cares … that’s the success of it. There was a need, we’re here to support and give back. That’s what keeps you going despite challenges. You’re making a difference in the lives of these young people.”

Shamsid-Deen said he was working on hiring about 300 area teens for concession stands during the 1996 Olympics when he realized many who applied didn’t have the necessary skills needed to get — or keep —the jobs. He saw bad resumes, folks showing up inappropriately dressed and some with a poor work ethic. He partnered with the DeKalb Business Association following the Olympics to start a youth mentorship program. The name Youth V.I.B.E. (for Vision, Industry, Business, and Empowerment) came in 1997. It became a tax-exempt nonprofit the following year.

In 2006, the group received a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help with its efforts.

Brian Reynolds said he knew he wanted to be a businessman when he signed up for Youth V.I.B.E. 13 years ago. He said the benefits of interacting with people in the business community who could help him understand the industry better, are still paying off. He runs the American Culture and Education Program, an international education exchange program where students are sent to study abroad and educators build relationships with international counterparts.

“One thing about business is it’s really important to have the right mentorship so you can make good decisions,” said Reynolds, who graduated from Lithonia High School. “One bad decision in business and that could cost you a lot.”

He talks often with Shamsid-Deen and said he has been a great source of advice.

“He’s doing major things around the globe,” Shamsid-Deen said of Reynolds. “Through Youth V.I.B.E., that seed was planted.”

The organization has had its challenges. The downturn in the economy saw grants become more restrictive, and fewer funders would give upfront money.

That forced some further expansion of services. “Most funding comes from government sources,” said Bryan Davis, a commercial real estate broker who chairs the nonprofit group’s board. “With restricting of funds, it means we’re going to have to crank it up a few more notches. The success speaks to the level of commitment from those that are involved.

“We’re going to need that same commitment, and being able to adapt, to keep moving forward.” In addition to the international exposure for students, Davis said plans are being formulated for a charter school. Reynolds said the perseverance of the organization speaks to its continued need.

“A lot of youth need to have guidance and mentorship so that kids that do have a dream have a better direction on how to reach their goals,” Reynolds said. “That’s really important. We need more organizations like this to help our youth out.”

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