Find out how Morehouse grad and MEAC / SWAC Challenge board member Chuck Lewis is investing in the community.
By Will Dean
ATLANTA – For the 2019 MEAC / SWAC Challenge, we are bringing our community outreach and involvement to the forefront of our mission, and Board Member Chuck Lewis is just one example of a team member being committed to this cause. As an advisory board member, Lewis has seen first hand the impact this game can have on the community in Atlanta, especially on the south side, but that’s not the only project he’s invested in. In 2016 Lewis also got involved with Teens Voice USA, an organization that uses “equine assisted self- development life coaching activities” to help “reengage at risk youth, teens and young adults with a secure sense of self and a concrete feeling of emotional self-control” (Teens Voice USA).
So how is horseback riding supposed to help our inner-city youth?
In an exclusive interview with Mr. Lewis, he brought in special guest and Senior Director of Teens Voice USA Lilly Morgan to help explain:
“Our focus is on equine assisted learning for foster care kids and kids in the juvenile system. Instead of going to juvie, they get a court order to come to Teens Voice USA Horse Ranch. We use horses to teach emotional control, behavioral intervention, and mirroring your true self. The idea is to unlock an understanding of their true selves and not who they are trying to portray to be or hide behind.”
The program takes proven psychological concepts that have historically been used to help those with mental disabilities and tailors them to reach the thoughts and feelings of troubled inner-city youth. When asked just how horseback riding can actually reach these feelings, Morgan emphasized the mirroring qualities that come with the connection between a horse and its rider. Simply put:
“If you’re not yourself, you can’t get the horse to do what you want it to do”.
Morgan used an example of a girl who was kicked out of high school and labeled as having a bad attitude. When she was brought to the ranch, her horse mirrored her actions and its stubbornness reflected her own attitude. It took a while for it to register, but when she realized that’s how people saw her, she started crying…
“I always tell the kids: ‘Welcome to working with yourself’. They don’t always get it until about three weeks in, but then it just clicks… When they get that, oh my god it’s so beautiful.”
Teens Voice USA serves scores of inner-city youth every weekend, but they don’t quite have the same brand recognition as a Habitat for Humanity or a Food Bank yet. When asked how Teens Voice USA caught his eye as a program worth investing in, Lewis didn’t skip a beat:
“The passion that Lilly has for this program. I can’t underscore that enough. Her efforts to organize such a unique program is infectious. I’ve been on the board of a zillion billion nonprofits but this is unique. You have a founder that really cares and pours everything she has into this program.”
When speaking with Ms. Morgan, it’s not hard to see what Chuck means. Her passion for the kids she works with is compelling, and it goes far beyond just talk. Lilly personally receives calls from kids on the weekends, who don’t feel safe in their environments and don’t want to be involved in gang or drug activity. She then drives her truck downtown and picks up as many kids as she can, arriving as early as 7:00 AM and only dropping them off after dark. This personal connection she has with the kids shows the kind of change Teens Voice USA is already having on so many children’s lives, but both Chuck and Lilly have their sights set on more.
“When the kids are in the system they age out at 17 or 18 which means they’re put back in the streets. They have to hustle. Some are having to break into “bandos” or abandoned buildings to sleep. They feel they have to sell weed or join gangs for their survival.”
In an effort to combat this issue, Lilly has been putting something together for the older kids at Teens Voice USA. She’s hoping to put some temporary homes on the property and start teaching them job skills on-site. She also plans on having training sessions with contractors and electricians that are willing to donate their time.
“The goal is to provide these kids with a trade that can take them throughout life. That way if they need some extra cash, they can go to the neighbor next door and offer to fix their ceiling fan, rather than turn to selling drugs.”
But new programs cost money, and maintaining a horse ranch is no cheap venture. That’s why, despite some generous grant funding from Dekalb County’s Project Rebound, it’s so important for Teens Voice USA to always be on the fundraising trail. Having raised a record $24.2 million when he chartered One Georgia Bank, this is an area in which Mr. Lewis’s expertise is especially critical and he’s excited about the programs they have underway:
“We had our first annual golf tournament for raising money this year. We had about 60 golfers and lots of talent. Next year we’ll be looking to expand the tournament, bring more attention to the program, and hopefully attract some big-name sponsors.”
Mr. Lewis also mentioned that in addition to the annual golf tournament, they are looking to host a fundraising concert in the near future. With all these projects in mind, fundraising or otherwise, the future seems bright for Chuck Lewis and Teens Voice USA. As for the MEAC / SWAC Challenge, these are exactly the kind of programs that make us proud of our HBCU community’s work, both on and off the field.
To find out more about Teens Voice USA, its programs, and its contributors, visit their website, call (678) 698-5014, and/or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.