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