Formally known as SPARK THIS; The RAYS UP program has been a part of Renton Area Youth and Family Services for a little over two decades changing and adapting to the needs of under resourced youth in the Renton school district. RAYS UP is a dropout prevention program designed to disrupt The School to Prison Pipeline which is disproportionately focused on the youth and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds becoming incarcerated due to school policies and harsh disciplinary actions. The faces of the program entitled as Youth Life Coaches serve as mentors, teachers (life skills) and student/family resource advocates, running groups focused on life skills and a five-week summer program to keep students engaged year around. The Youth Life Coaches engage youth at Dimmit Middle school, Renton High school, Albert Talley and have expectations to expand in the near future.
The team consist of Imani Hampton, formerly a Lead Youth Life Coach who was promoted into the role of Associate Director of Community Programs, and Youth Life Coaches Aaron Pitts, Troy Landrum Jr and Adan Garcia. Imani, Aaron and Troy have been with the program an average of a year and a half to two years pursing the work they are passionate about. Newest Youth Life Coach, Adan Garcia, joined the team in September and brings a wealth of experience supporting and guiding young people as a youth pastor and sports coach. Asked about joining the team, Adan shared, “Just to be able to impact the upcoming generation to be successful in their communities is what I’m excited about with the RAYS UP program.”
“The village man, it’s the village.” Aaron says when asked, “What brought him to this work?” He further states “There is a lack of positive male role models in our schools, there is a lack of a positive voice.” Aaron’s presence in Dimmit Middle school and Renton High school has been felt and appreciated by the school staff throughout the school year. As you step into Dimmit Middle School directly after “hello” is the question “Is Mr. Pitts here with you today?” A humbling reminder of the importance of influence and trust that can be gained in the matter of a school year. Aaron continues “With that gap, I am able to fill that void and I do that for the greater hope of our community. The village takes care of one another and a positive impact not only affects the individual but impacts the village.”
“The village takes care of one another and a positive impact not only affects the individual but impacts the village.” -Aaron Pitts, Youth Life Coach
Imani, whom through her long career in youth development has built her personal mission statement around Ayesha Siddiqui’s powerful quote “Be the person you needed when you were younger” strives to live this out through her direct work and vision not only for the RAYS UP program but the multiple programs that she oversees as an Associate Director. “I overcame a lot of obstacles and barriers and I had a lot of people step in and help but not people that looked like me.” Imani says. As a woman of color, Imani, is able to be that person for the students she diligently advocates for at Albert Talley High. Albert Talley High is an alternative school that breaths in second chance through the lungs of the diverse student population bustling up and down the steps of the naturally lit building. Imani believes this is ultimately “Social Justice” at work, believing that “in this realm of work social justice is not only acknowledging that we as people of color are treated differently but actually taking steps to correct that”. For Imani, those mean that every student she encounters is guided toward being the best version of themselves.
Albert Talley High is an alternative school that breaths in second chance through the lungs of the diverse student population bustling up and down the steps of the naturally lit building.
The programs strong social justice focus is not only being used to advocate for the youth but it is teaching youth to advocate for themselves and also showing them how to speak up for the voiceless among them. “It is our job to empower our youth to understand these social justice issues and speak up for people of color and others of different religions and cultures,” both Aaron and Imani affirmed. They both believe the only way to empower the youth is by meeting them where they are at, with both student and mentor understanding that this is all a learning process. The goal is to strengthen the student’s passion and vigor for life and be who they want to be not who society has assumed or projected they will be. This is community work, youth work and social justice work. This work of empowering students to achieve success in life by building self-awareness, confidence, motivation and encouraging them to be advocates by using their own voices will continue to be the work of the RAYS UP program.
“Each one teach one.” African American Proverb
JOIN US SATURDAY OCT. 20TH, 6-9:30PM
Top three reasons you don’t want to miss our event Light the Way with RAYS:
- You care about kids and families
- You love good food, wine and music
- You can’t resist a photo booth with boas(Feather boas!)
The theme this year is Light the Way with RAYS – Ignite Hope. During stressful times in our lives it can be difficult to remember what it feels like to have hope that things can get better. The staff at RAYS works with our families and individuals to re-light that spark of hope. We invite you join us in positively impacting over 1700 children, youth and family members a year. Limited tickets are available here.
Honoring June Leonard
This year we will be honoring RAYS founding director, June Leonard. Former Renton School Board Member and Washington State Representative June Leonard (d. April 21, 1994) was a fierce advocate for children and families, and was the first Executive Director of RAYS in the 1970’s and 1980’s. June was part of the founding group of Board members who incorporated RAYS as a non-profit agency in 1975. She was a tireless advocate for children and families and her work and vision are visible today in RAYS’ school-based counseling services, behavioral health services at medical clinics, supportive home visits with the parents of newborns, and our RAYS Up youth development and mentorship program. Members of June’s family will be present to share more about her unique contributions to RAYS and to receive our thanks for her service.
Our Emcee for the evening is the talented Toyia T. Taylor, Renton High School Grad, Educator, Advocate, and Founding Director of We.APP
(We Act. Present. Perform.) Young Artists Academy (YAA). Toyia’s “sole life purpose is to collaborate with brilliant minds invested in the arts so that children invest in themselves and together, we build a legacy of promise”. Through YAA she inspires students to find their voice and speak their truth through story sharing and public speaking. We are delighted to have Toyia join us!
Hors d’oeuvres and Beverage
Guests will again enjoy delicious food and wine pairings from Melrose Grill
and Vino at the Landing
and we will provide plentiful hors d’oeuvres and beverages to sustain you throughout the evening.
Silent Auction: Watch our Facebook
page for updates on our auction items. We have autographed items from the Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders, an Olympic Peninsula 2-night getaway, golf package, custom made jewelry, wine basket and much more.
Stories from Our Rays Youth Mentors
Our program will feature stories and highlights from our RAYS Up
Youth Life Coaches. You will be inspired by the resilience of these young people and future leaders.
We will wrap up the night with an intimate concert with local songstress Stephanie Anne Johnson. Stephanie Anne Johnson
is a multifaceted vocalist who enjoys singing the acoustic music she writes and the performing in some of the greatest musical theater ever written. In the past few years, she has performed with Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Actor’s Theater of Louisville, The Village Theater in Hairspray and numerous venues in Seattle including the Tractor Tavern, the Royal Room and the Triple Door. She was a lounge singer for Holland America Cruise Line, a member of the Seattle area Dickens Carolers, and a Top 20 Finalist on Season 5 of NBC’s Emmy Award Winning The Voice. Her final song “Georgia on My Mind,” rose to the #4 spot on iTunes R&B and Soul charts. Here’s a little sample from her time on The Voice
. We are so excited she can join us!
Working together we can light the way for vulnerable children, youth, and families in our community. Join us!
“So we will be trying something new.” – Program Director
Troy Landrum is an Indianapolis, IN native that has been living and working in Renton and South Seattle for four years. He is currently a Youth Life Coach for Renton Area Youth and Family Services (RAYS) working in youth development work at Renton High School and Dimmit Middle School. Troy is passionate about helping young people reach their potential. He recently discovered a new passion for writing and will be releasing a book in fall 2018.
My co-workers facial expressions went from relaxed to tensed and puzzled as the room filled with the thickness of confusion. We had been running on empty for about 6 months, at this point not aware of the affect emotional burnout had on all of us.
We looked at ourselves as youth workers full of passion, drive and the superhero syndrome. We worked with the most vulnerable youth, so in our minds they desperately needed us all of the time. The stories of hopelessness that surrounded us during that time covered us like a grey cloud. Our Program Director could see it in our eyes, at our weekly meetings, and through our encounters with one another. We were the definition of burned out. That morning, we sat in our weekly community meeting, already aware and ready to shut down any belief that our way of being could be transformed.
Our Program Director could see it in our eyes, at our weekly meetings, and through our encounters with one another. We were the definition of burned out.
“Over the next 2 months we will be participating in resiliency training as a group. It will be resiliency through Yoga. Participation is not optional. You all need this.” After about 10 minutes of her pulling teeth, we all accepted the fact that we could not talk our way out of this situation. Soon we found ourselves driving up to a white signpost labeled Rainier Beach Yoga and a black arrow pointed towards the garage. Our diverse group of outreach workers slowly walked with “wasted time” written on all our faces. We walked into the airy welcoming space and in that moment, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders.
Our instructor told us to grab yoga mats, “long pillows,” and get comfortable. She explained as we went through a series of poses on how resiliency needs to be present in our work and daily lives. An hour swiftly went by and she said, “As we come to a close, our last ten to fifteen minutes will be meditation.” Five minutes into meditation, I fade into the sounds of snores and peaceful slumbers, to be soothingly awakened to the calm ocean-like rhythm of our instructor’s voice.
Weeks go by… instead of Yoga being another item added to the exhaustive list of things to do, it became our sanctuary of rest, expression and comfort.
Weeks go by… instead of Yoga being another item added to the exhaustive list of things to do, it became our sanctuary of rest, expression and comfort. When our sessions eventually ended the majority of us stayed involved. Now we understood that our Director was right, “we needed it.”
I realized that if my goal is to continue my work with young people it’s paramount to be aware of myself and take care of myself. How could I expect to be there for my young people if I could not be there for myself?
I had already been an athlete, trained in boxing and trying to relive the glory days through rec basketball leagues and community centers. However, this meditated time added a new element to the way that I looked at my body, health and mind. Now that I am able to become present in the moment through body movements, I am aware of certain traumas that lingered from my past, pasted to my body like glue on paper. I realized that if my goal is to continue my work with young people it’s paramount to be aware of myself and take care of myself. How could I expect to be there for my young people if I could not be there for myself? If I wasn’t in a healthy place then how could I guide my youth to a healthy place? My road map is no help if it is tattered and torn.
Here are five ways I try to take care of myself throughout my week. Maybe some will inspire you as well.
- Exercise/ Yoga – At least 2 to 3 times per week
- Reading/ Writing – I try to read 3 or 4 times throughout the week and find space throughout the week to write at least twice per week
- Pause – Slow down throughout my day and meditate on the beauty around me in the PNW (Mornings I take a drive down Rainier Ave with Lake Washington on my left soaking in the sight.)
- Connecting w/family and friends – I love to laugh so my family and friends do a good job at helping with that
- Music – I am a big J Cole fan, Kendrick Lamar and I am getting into Aaron Copland who is a classical composer