Ceretha and Derrick Robinson exude thankfulness about getting to be a hub of empowerment and success for teenagers for the past 10 years through their McKinney-based nonprofit, Alliance of Elite Youth Leadership. Together, the married duo founded this organization because they saw a chance to bridge gaps between beneficial life preparations for others.
AEYL's mission is dedicated to developing a diverse population of youth (ages 12-18) and young adults (ages 19-24), specifically cultivating exposure and opportunity to build positive perspectives of life with an emphasis on higher education, economic and community development.
"We incorporate a holistic approach to empower students, and help them unlock their potential," explains Derrick, who adds that it's really about showcasing options regarding how to have happy, rewarding individual strategies.
Life lessons shared through AEYL range from establishing public speaking skills and earning trust to teaching students how to build valuable relationships for future success. AEYL leaders offer teens and young adults life skills coaching, academic encouragement and support through scholarships, paid-internships, career training, workforce readiness and community service.
The Robinsons, who grew up in the small town of Marianna, Arkansas, say their organization began with a "faith walk" from their corporate jobs, going where "the good Lord led them" in helping others who may lack resources for making certain types of decisions. For example, Ceretha says at their high school, they didn't have prospective college representatives coming in to share options. Rather, they had military representatives to encourage that path, which she took as a route that seemed sure-footed at the time. Ceretha says she was immersed in medical options in the military, but transitioned into finance to use a different set of her skills when they relocated to McKinney, a move that ended up assisting them to establish AEYL as an entrepreneurial nonprofit.
Likewise, Derrick says he didn't have a consistent role model in high school, so wanted to give teens what he didn't have so they could properly explore their life options and capitalize on their best interests. "I want young people to be able to dig deeper, and dive into what is their own 'why' in life."
Looking back over the past decade of AEYL programs, Derrick reflects on the positive impacts they've seen on households and entire families. "Now those teenagers who started with us are 24, 25 or 26 years old, and making their own ways in the world," he says. "And, during our 10th anniversary year, we realize how appreciative we are about having been able to expand the program to young adults."
From its current AEYL-FLS Resource Center located at 202 W. Louisiana St., Ste. 104, Ceretha says true leadership skills, such as communications, problem-solving and decision-making, are developed and honed. "Our programs offer networking opportunities that allow young adults to also connect with other community leaders, too. We focus on both personal and professional growth to establish a quality of life. We wanted to provide teenagers and young adults with opportunities to see the variety of ways they could be successful and to build on their own perspectives. We give them a chance to identify their own strengths and ideas about what will be their life."
Additional AEYL-FLS Resource Center staff are: Chris Chavez, Kyerra Robinson, Terre Sanford, Jasmine Sanders and AEYL board members.
Ceretha says the many AEYL community partners include supportive groups, such as McKinney ISD, Prosper ISD, City of McKinney and McKinney Chamber-McKinney Young Professionals. These groups especially assist in serving as business hosts for AEYL internships.
Other helpful initiatives spring up from individuals, as well. Derrick shares that a community-based, hands-on workforce training session is being planned before year's end with William Thomas, local owner of Custom Handymen Services. Derrick says they and William discovered they had a shared vision of enabling young adults to explore what trade professions would be like for occupations such as carpentry and woodworking.
William says this cohort class program is designed to allow participants to personally pursue their interests in the home repair industry, and to ask questions about the business aspects of the profession, too.
How To Support AEYL Efforts
While financial donations always are helpful in supporting endeavors, such as AEYL robotics or in purchasing equipment for the new trades exploration class, other opportunities to support the group lie in becoming a tutor, mentor or guest speaker.
During November, the Robinsons state that volunteers are needed for their 5th Annual Turkey Drive, during which frozen turkeys are given to 200 to 225 individuals via a carpool line.
Additionally, AEYL leaders presently service about 3,000 families, and are seeking gift cards or appropriate games and items to be donated for youths 12 to 18 years old for their holiday gift drive for young people in need.
Alliance of Elite Youth Leadership specialists uphold the foundation of the nonprofit's four pillars as outlined here. AEYL also is an Authorized Pearson Vue Test Center in Collin County.
- Core 4 Mentoring:
Weekly motivational mentoring sessions with role models promote support, personal and social communication, community commitment, overall integrity and positive characteristics through group fellowship and peer discussion.
- Core 4 Academics/Career Exploration:
Cohort program that includes entrepreneurial analytics, problem solving, critical thinking skills, as well as experience sharing about employee and business ownership concepts.
- Core 4 STEM/Athletics:
Connecting interests and education-oriented subjects with athletics and physical fitness through leagues and camps promotes cross-disciplinary studies and cultivates self-motivated learning.
- Core 4 Community Service:
Cultivating civil engagement to become more productive citizens while giving back to the community and actively developing healthier lifestyles and gaining versatility.