jeff-johnson_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

WEST PALM BEACH — It takes a village to raise a child — and a village of caring individuals to raise a leader.

The Urban League of Palm Beach County is doing its part by providing a program that mentors youth and gets them ready for life.

The organization will host its annual Youth Empowerment Luncheon on Sept. 29 with the keynote speech being given by MSNBC commentator and author Jeff Johnson.

MSNBC and Today Show anchor Tamron Hall will also be a guest speaker at the event.

Proceeds will benefit the Urban League’s NULITES — National Urban League Incentive to Excel and Succeed — a program working with 120 youth preparing them for college and work, as well as teaching them life skills.

“The program provides us with relationships. If we need an internship or anything of that sort, they will help us get it,” NULITES President Jarrett Powell said.

Jarrett, 16, says the program has given him new confidence through travel, workshops and leadership opportunities.

“I was never a shy person but I didn’t feel comfortable with public speaking. We’ve had workshops to improve my public speaking skills,” he said. “I also attended [national conferences] with NULITES from around the country in Boston, Maryland and Chicago.  You get a chance to meet new people, make new friends.”

The NULITES program in Palm Beach County has won national awards four times in the last 10 years, according to the Urban League’s president and CEO, Patrick Franklin.

“We have won Youth of the Year three times in the last five years and Caring Adult of the Year, an adult that really works and spends time with these kids,” Franklin said. “I have a very dedicated staff that puts forth the time to work with our kids and have really propelled this group to a national power.”

In 2010, the NULITES won Chapter of the Year, Caring Adult of the Year — Gloria Scott — and Youth of the Year honors.

The students compete with members of more than 130 other chapters nationwide and every member who has participated in the program for more than a year has graduated from high school.

Graduating seniors with college acceptance letters will make an easier transition, thanks to a NULITES incentive.

“When you give us your letter of acceptance to college and you’ve been with us for over a year, I’ll give you a free laptop computer,” Franklin said. “It’s coming up on the fifth year of us doing this.  The first year, all you had to do was graduate from high school and now that’s a given.”

The program now distributes between 35 and 38 laptops each year with the help of a grant from the Lost Tree Village Charitable Foundation.

Franklin said attendance at meetings, GPA and other requirements must be met first and students are also asked to write letters explaining how they are using the computers in school.

The league was awarded a $200,000 grant recently from Bank of America through its Neighborhoods of Excellence Initiative.

“They provide an unrestricted grant along with a tremendous amount of training to assist nonprofits with the work they do throughout the community,” he said. “The grant will help us in this time of budget cuts and reduction. We are doing programs that come with diminishing funds directed back to the agency.”

Franklin said the grant will give the league an opportunity to expand and continue providing programs that aid the community.

Due to federal and state cuts of funds that are the nonprofit agency’s primary support, programs and jobs have been in jeopardy,forcing recent layoffs.

Franklin said

he expects the NULITES program to continue, which will help the youth through high school, college and life.

“It’s all about exposure.  There are no restrictions on the NULITES program.  It’s open to anyone who wants to participate (ages 10 – 18),” he said.

“Parents, guardians or relatives can bring their children every third Thursday of the month for meetings and on Saturdays for community service.”

Jarrett, a junior at William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens, said four years ago he wasn’t that interested in the NULITES but his mom, Angela Powell, made him sign up and the experience has taught him to be a leader.

“My biggest test was running for president and leading a group of more than 100 children. It taught me to become a leader, not a follower,” he said.

Jarrett said he also found his own identity through the program and he says youth should not worry about the perceptions of others.

“It might not seem like a ‘cool’ group to be in but it actually provides excellent opportunities,” he said. “This group teaches you to discover who you are.  That’s a gift no one else could give.”

For more information about the NULITES program, call 561-833-1461.

Photo: Jeff Johnson