Success Stories

IMG_2272-oneboyThanksgiving in a Box

Just in time for the holidays, some folks got a special gift from some unique young men.

Every month you can find the Young Leaders Academy of Baton Rouge lending a helping hand in the community, but this time they found an important need to fulfill: making sure others have something to eat this Thanksgiving.

It's the gift that keeps giving.  These young men represent the Young Leaders Academy of Baton Rouge, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the chances of success for young African American males.  Monday, they took time out for others, by passing out Thanksgiving boxes to 12 families in need.

Fourth grader Brandon Mitchel says, "Sometimes people don't get much of an opportunity like we do today to give things to people who don't actually have much to eat in a neighborhood like this."

Seventh grader Tony Mitchel says, "I'm very fortunate to see this and be thankful because it's Thanksgiving."

The program manager, Kenneth McFarland says, "They give so much of themselves and just to see them grow, it's just a phenomenal thing to watch them just get that confidence, that ability to speak to people, that ability to just feel comfortable in any situation."

Young Leaders Academy has over 40 more families that they would like to give a Thanksgiving box to, but they need your help.  If you would like to help the boys collect more non-perishable food call the organization at 346-1583.

New Dimensions Magazine
Teaching Young Men to Believe in Themselves
Volume 7

"Scott," a young man without many local male role models in his life, desired more opportunity to connect with men who had experienced higher education and someone whom he could discuss his interest in spirituality with. It was at this time when "Johnny," an African American law student, came into Scott's life by becoming his mentor.

Johnny also helped Scott to understand the value of education by taking Scott to his school, a local, traditionally black university, for Scott to do his homework. Additionally, Johnny helped expose Scott to spirituality by taking him to his church on a regular basis and introducing Scott to the pastor of the church who was also a professor of law at a nearby university.

Scott has had the opportunity to become part of The Young Leaders' Academy (YLA), an organization that teaches young men how to believe in themselves. In fact, the motto states this: "If in my mind I can conceive it, and in my heart I can believe it, then certainly I can achieve it." The organization exists to nurture the development of leadership abilities of young African-American males, empowering them to improve the quality of their lives and assisting them in becoming
productive citizens.

The Black Reporter Magazine
Future Leaders Making a Difference Today
Summer 2001

The Young Leaders' Academy of Baton Rouge develops the leadership abilities of young African American males, empowering them to improve the quality of their lives and assisting them in becoming productive citizens.

Society is asking a big question. How do we keep our children safe. How do we keep our kids on the right track? How do we keep children in school, where they'll gain the knowledge and skills they'll need to have a good life? Fortunately, there are people who are willing to step up and take on these challenges. Kirt Bennett of Baton Rouge, are creating good citizens and high achievers.

Essence Magazine
2001 Essence Awards Honorable Mention

Since 1993, the Young Leaders' Academy, Inc. of Baton Rouge has been helping to turn at-risk African-American boys into achieving leaders. The program taps youngsters as early as the third grade (they're chosen by their elementary school principal), works with them in Saturday classes on math, English and public speaking, and provides field trips to cities like Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. The last four years of the ten-year program are spent in the senior academy, where the boys focus on college and life-skills preparation and do a corporate internship. Initially funded by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and currently run by executive director Kirt Bennett, the academy proves that young leaders are not born, they are molded.




The Oprah Magazine
July - August 2000

Thousands of you have logged on to to tell us inspiring stories of people who are using their lives, reaching out to help others in need. People like Kirt Bennett - whose Young Leader's Academy turns "at risk" boys into caring leaders. [more]




Volunteer Leadership Magazine
Summer 2000

The Young Leaders' Academy
Too many young African-American boys were being disciplined, suspended and expelled from the East Baton Rouge Parish schools, so the Chamber of Commerce, Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the schools united to devise a program that would inspire young men to be leaders in the face of peers who tempted them with drugs, violence and the gang culture.

"The premise was that leaders influence their peers," says executive director Kirt Bennett. "We can't impact the lives of 1,000 children, but we can start with 45."

In 1993, principals from six inner city schools chose boys who had shown leadership skills to be in the first class of Young Leaders. Now drawn from 29 schools, each Saturday at 7:50 a.m., the 150 Young Leaders of Baton Rouge don uniforms, chant Marine-inspired drills, study, play and once a month, do community service. Monday through Thursday after school, the boys work individually with teachers on math and language arts. They are assigned mentors. A six-week Summer Academy at Louisiana State University offers academics, field trips, tutoring and team building.

It's a rigorous program that requires commitment and sacrifice from both the boys and their parents; boys from third to fifth grade can not participate in Saturday sports programs if they are in Young Leaders, and all Young Leaders must be present 80% of the time.

Most staff members are African American males, because so many boys are raised by their mothers alone. "It's very demanding, it's no time for excuses," says Bennett. "We're trying to create a sense of structure, a sense of high expectations."

Initially, Young Leaders was to end at ninth grade, but as the first group of young men prepared to graduate from the program this year, the board decided to launch Senior Academy. Teens will meet monthly to do community service and learn job skills. They'll also serve as mentors to younger Leaders and intern at local businesses.

"Our long-term vision is these young boys will grow up to be leaders in the community," says Bennett. He tells business supporters, "Selflessly, your philanthropy is making a difference in the life of a child. Selfishly, we're giving you what most employers say they need: a qualified work force that's prepared to be proficient at the job."