Ypsilanti paraeducator uses prize money to launch nonprofit serving local youth

A paraeducator at Ypsilanti Community Schools' (YCS) Achieving College and Career Education program recently launched a nonprofit youth development organization called Better Me Youth, funded by a cash award from the state of Michigan.

Carla Whitsett, who has been involved with local schools including the Willow Run Community Schools and now YCS, used her $1,000 Support Staff Professional of the Year award to start the organization.

"I have a heart and a desire to serve children and instill in them some long-term life skills, help them get into college, and show them another way," Whitsett says.

She says she seeks to help young people who don't have the type of parents who will drive them to after-school activities. She especially wants to reach out to youth in Ypsi's Southside who think they're too old or too cool for after-school programming at Parkridge Community Center.

"After a certain age, the kids I work with don't go there, and those are the kids I want to reach," she sats,

Rather than looking for a brick-and-mortar space to launch the nonprofit, Whitsett is seeking to fund a vehicle she can use to create a mobile after-school program and eliminate transportation barriers. 

"I've been in the school district for 23 years. Sometimes there's a tragedy happening, and I can't get to the kids and get them out of the situation," Whitsett says. "One girl called me and said her stepdad was beating up her mom and she wanted to get her little sister out. If I'd been mobile and had something I could pick her up [with to take her to] a safe place at that time, it would have been helpful."

Whitsett is currently lining up board members and staff with social work backgrounds. Programming will focus on youth-led work around healing trauma, building community, and connecting across differences, Whitsett says. She says she'd like to include opportunities for staff and youth to serve the community, like bringing a food truck and free food to local seniors.

"I really want to change our community right now. There's a lot going on because of COVID, but I'm not going to let that stop me from serving," Whitsett says.

More information about the nonprofit is available here and here. Anyone interested in the program may also email bettermeyouth1@gmail.com.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Better Me Youth.
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