Four days a week after school, about 30 children and teenagers in Auburn head to the Frank Brown Recreation Center. They go because inside they find music, dance, art and one-on-one help with homework.
These programs are brought to area youth through local nonprofit I Am My Brother's Keeper (IAMBK), which was founded in 2006 to provide support for at-risk youth and families. For founder and full-time volunteer Trellis Smith, the organization is doing more than finding kids new hobbies and helping them succeed academically.
"We are encouraging young people, regardless of their socioeconomic status, regardless of their family background, to dream," Smith said.
Smith is a graduate of Auburn High School and Auburn University, where she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees. She later earned a PhD at the University of Georgia, but came back to Auburn because she wanted to help the youth in this community. She has worked with children throughout her career and said she noticed early on that many in Auburn are struggling.
"I've seen where many were struggling academically, particularly those youth from low-income, single-parent homes, which now make up a large percentage of our participant population," said Smith, a single mother of three teenagers.
She also found that the teenagers she talked to seemed to have no aspirations. When asked what they want to be when they grow up, they would shrug and reply, "I don't know."
"That may be typical, but what I found was a lot of teenagers we worked with, they haven't left Auburn; they haven't left the Lee County area. They haven't been exposed to much," she said. "I think exposure can help you find out what you want to do ... Their world was: go to school, come home and then I may be home by myself because my parents are working, and I’m limited to where I can go because there is often a transportation issue. So, we wanted to help these kids."
IAMBK emerged out of the community, through the help of volunteers — there can be up to 70 annually — and partnerships with local businesses and organizations. Today, IAMBK offers afterschool programs in dance, music, visual arts and academic tutoring.
The nonprofit also provides hot meals to the children with the help of Campus Kitchen and has a doctoral student in Marriage and Family Therapy leading a group therapy session for teenagers in both Auburn and Tuskegee, where IAMBK also has a presence. Youth are also able to receive mentorship through a partnership IAMBK has with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chattahoochee Valley.
In Auburn, about 30 kids participate in the programs, and in Tuskegee, the number is the same. Smith said she believes that if she could solve some transportation issues, she would be able to double the amount of participants in Auburn, but has yet to overcome that challenge.
"We need help and support with the transportation issue," she said. "The kids getting here is a challenge, so we're trying to figure something out."
But the kids who are able to get to Frank Brown to participate in the programs often discover a passion and improve in school.
Many have developed a love for dance and gone on to be teen dance teachers at different community organizations. One boy, who struggled with a speech impediment, found a love for dance and music at IAMBK that allowed him to excel creatively.
"He's very talented and awesome to watch. He comes back and participates because even now it gives him an outlet," Smith said. "In spite of his speech impediment, he was able to find something to latch onto to feel confident. To me, that's a success story."
She said that many parents say they appreciate the individualized treatment each child receives at IAMBK. One first-grade boy has been working with his tutor in an effort to not be held back at school — an idea his teacher communicated to his parent.
"Every time he gets a progress report, (his mother) sends it to us, and we send it to the site manager and give it to the tutor, and the tutor works with that child," Smith said. "I think he's showing progress; we're seeing improvement on his reports.
"We're going to work with this child; we're going to get him to where he needs to be so he doesn't get held back."
IAMBK will soon celebrate the work it has done all year at an event on Dec. 14 at 5 p.m. at the Epworth Center.
The event will feature a catered "soul food" meal and performances from IAMBK dance groups, music groups and drama groups. Visual art created by the kids will also be on display, and some items will be featured in a silent auction.
"It's going to be awesome," Smith said.
"We're thinking about 200 people will come, and it's Tuskegee and Auburn groups coming together."
The guest speaker for the event will be Auburn University Athletic Director Allen Greene. Tickets are $25. To purchase a ticket, find the event on Facebook by searching IAMBK 2019 4th Annual Fundraising Gala and following the links provided.
Money raised at the event will go to support IAMBK programs.
Another chance to support IAMBK will come through the city of Auburn's Holiday Art Sale, which takes place Dec. 14. Visual arts created by the children will be on sale at the IAMBK booth from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Jan Dempsey Arts Center.