Local friends work to advance area teens

by Christina Ritchie Rogers

Del Arrendale

Two local men have big plans for 2011, and if all goes well, area students could see new after school opportunities focused on business internships, skill development and mentorship as early as this summer.

About 8 months ago, Randy Hickman of Huntersville and Del Arrendale of Cornelius, who have been friends for years, set in motion a plan to bring the unique, Chicago-based afterschool program “After School Matters” to the Charlotte area.

After School Matters  is a nonprofit organization offering teens project-based afterschool opportunities for skill development across disciplines. The aim is to provide meaningful, real-world experience to get the teens career-ready and thinking about their future, and Arrendale and Hickman plan to continue that goal with their ASM-inspired organization, Charlotte Matters.

“We really want to replicate the program and have permission to do that,” Hickman said. “But we want to have even heavier focus on mentoring and character development.”

The cause hits close to home

Randy Hickman

Hickman, a 53-year-old retired pastor, has been working with at-risk youth since he was in bible school more than 20 years ago. When he was in his twenties, he was called to work with a church in Baton Rouge, La. – a city notorious for gang activity. He started Kids Clubs, an inner-city ministry serving at-risk children, and Slam Camp, a basketball camp pairing youth with college and high school coaches.

But Hickman’s commitment to youth and to the Charlotte Matters program stems from experiences even further back than Baton Rouge. Growing up in rural Arkansas, one of five children in a small house, he moved out while he was in high school and had to grow up fast. He could have benefited from having a mentor, he said.

Like Hickman, Arrendale’s own youth experience reinforces his commitment to Charlotte-area youth. Now the CEO of Arrendale Associates in Cornelius, he grew up in the projects of Canton, Ohio. He spent a lot of time at the Police Boys Club, now the Boys & Girls Club, and it changed his life, he said.

“I didn’t have a quarter to buy soda with,” Arrendale said, “but I had a place to go and I had a mentor.”

He learned skills in woodworking, ceramics and metal work, and the wide array of skills gave Arrendale confidence to pursue a job.

“I came away from there thinking I could do anything,” Arrendale said.

And that feeling is just what Charlotte Matters plans to foster by providing mentors and keeping the focus on tangible, sustainable skill development. “Every program is product-based,” Hickman said, “and that builds self-worth.”

Strength in partnerships

The Chicago organization is able to provide instruction in sports leadership, technology, writing, sciences and arts through its partnerships with other area organizations, including Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Library, among others. It also garners support from Chicago First Lady Maggie Daley’s involvement. She serves as chairman of the ASM board and guided development of the program a decade ago.

Hickman and Arrendale hope to gain similar support from community leaders in our area.

“It’s really important for us to find a face,” Arrendale said. He and Hickman will meet with Jim Chancey, Director of Career and Technical Education with Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, and other directors of area after school programs Thursday, Jan. 6, and plan to meet with Mayor Anthony Foxx next week.

Charlotte Matters, a nonprofit, is beginning to raise money, but partnerships and community support are just as important as funding to the program’s success. And getting local businesses involved in advising students and providing internships can be a win-win for everyone involved.

If all goes well, they hope to launch a pilot program at one of CMS’ schools with 40 rising ninth-graders this summer, and carry it through the fall.

But while they know they need to start small, they can’t help but dream big. The Chicago program reaches more than 25,000 teens and creates about 1,000 paid job opportunities, as instructors are given stipends. Students also receive stipends for participating.

“The beauty of this program is that it’s not limited,” Hickman said.

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