Education

‘Inspiring Minds’ Bringing Program to Youngstown

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A youth organization that’s achieved great success in Warren is looking to duplicate that effort here.

“We’re going to mimic and model some of the good things we’ve done,” says Deryck Toles, CEO of Inspiring Minds (inspiringmindsyouth.org), which sponsors summer and after-school programs for mostly inner-city children. “The good thing is that we have nine years of experience.”

The Youngstown initiative kicks off in June with a six- week program for students enrolled in grades 3 through 8, Toles says. “There’s going to be swimming lessons, kids are going to be in the garden, they’re going to take trips every week, they’ll go bowling and do fun activities,” he says.

Inspiring Minds also plans student visits to college campuses, athletic events, healthy eating seminars, and an arts and educational component, he adds. “Right now we’re focusing on math, but we’re working with the school district to see if there’s other things they want to deal with.”

The next goal is to develop an after-school program targeted for the fall. “We’re working with the district now on a couple things as to what age groups and grades to focus on.”

Inspiring Minds’ after-school program features visits to local companies with a focus on entrepreneurship, introducing positive mentors, tutoring, and health and wellness. “It’s giving them an opportunity to connect and give them the opportunities to be successful,” Toles says.

Toles, a former NFL linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts, founded Inspiring Minds nine years ago in Warren. “All of the students we’ve worked with have graduated high school and gone on to college or on to the armed forces,” he says. “We’re at a point now where we’re starting to see them graduate college.”

Inspiring Minds alumni attend colleges across the country and are pursuing majors such as molecular biology, engineering, and pre-med, Toles says. “They’re all getting jobs and getting their masters degrees, so we want to see the same thing here,” he says of the Youngstown program.

Toles adds that he’s searching for a building to house its new Youngstown site, but hasn’t determined a location yet.

Inspiring Minds works with 300 students in Warren each year, and Youngstown will start with between 60 and 100 students. “Every year, we want to watch it grow. We want to be careful, we’re not about trying to throw out big numbers, we’re really about making sure what we do is effective and efficient,” Toles says.

That means connecting with the students, parents and other stakeholders in the program. The secret to motivating these young people, Toles says, is to convince them they have a bright future. “It’s all about being able to see tomorrow. Our kids go through so much that sometimes they can’t see past what’s in front of them,” he remarks.

Connecting them with successful professionals who have endured the same challenges is a critical part of the program, as is exposing them to different cultures and people, Toles notes. “When you give a kid hope, that’s how you inspire somebody.”

Board member Lindsay Renea says she is excited about the organization’s expansion to Youngstown. ” “I’m from Youngstown — born and raised,” she says. “I think this program is definitely something that every young person in Youngstown could benefit from.”

Kids need to be paid attention to, and see others are invested in their interests, Renea says. “That’s a high priority of this organization. Hope is definitely something that will definitely help with the transition.”

Tole’s work helped convince Tim Frost to leave his post as the vice president of operations at a children’s academy in Florida and join Inspiring Minds as its Youngstown executive director.

“Youngstown is my hometown,” Frost says, speaking from Florida. “Deryck and I started to work on some things when I was a community organizer in Warren.”

Frost has since gained experience with nonprofits and educational programs that focused on child care. “Deryck inspired me to start a lot of things down here,” he says.

One of the programs in which Frost participated introduced kids who were incarcerated to visual arts, music, and poetry, he relates. “It challenged me to help those who were already in extreme circumstances,” Frost elaborates.

In Youngstown, Frost says he’s looking forward to the program expanding on what Inspiring Minds has accomplished in Warren.

“The key is not to just inspire the child, but to be inspired and inspire someone else,” Frost says. “It’s a chain reaction.”

PICTURED: Deryck Toles, a former NFL football player,  is the founder and CEO of Inspiring Minds.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.