A youth program offered by Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority has seen great success in raising up local students and setting them on a path to be future leaders.

The CAYLI, or Community Action Youth Leadership Initiative, serves students in low-income families. The program is meant to take on a two-generational approach to eradicating poverty. Youth ages 13 to 17 can participate in the program, which provides leadership development and work skills training along with exposure to career opportunities.

Community Action Authority offers early education to preschool-aged students through Head Start and Early Head Start, and the nonprofit also serves families through numerous other programs that aim to help low-income residents reach self-sustainability. The CAYLI program bridges the gap and serves students of the families being served by Community Action Authority’s other programs.

“One of the things that I think is extremely important when we’re talking about changing the mindset and breaking the cycle of poverty is that it is very important for our children to know that irregardless of where they come from or their socio-economic standing, it doesn’t limit them and it doesn’t limit their possibilities,” said Tres Hamilton, CEO of Community Action Authority.

She said the CAYLI program exposes youth to leaders in the worlds of business, government, social services and more.

The program also aims to help students travel outside of Brunswick. In November, the group took a trip to Atlanta for a Youth Assembly at the state capitol. They also annually visit the Civil and Human Rights Museum in Atlanta.

CAYLI’s year-long curriculum provides experiences that ultimately build up the students’ confidence and increase their soft skills.

“We try to make sure that they understand that we don’t want them just to make it — we want them to thrive,” said Zerik Samples, chief development officer for Community Action Authority.

The students participate in volunteer opportunities at least once a month, practice their leadership and communication skills at a ropes course on St. Simons and meet regularly for group discussions.

The program’s coordinator, Micheal Rivers, keeps close track of the students’ school performance as well, ensuring that they’re successful in the classroom.

Rivers said he also sees the students taking on leadership roles in their schools and working to uplift their fellow classmates.

“As I walked the halls of our local high schools and middle schools, I’ve seen our very students grabbing hold to those who are segregated and downcast and letting them know, ‘Things are going to work out,’ or my personal favorite, ‘The beginning is always today, a fresh start occurs when you wake up every morning,’” Rivers said.

The CAYLI program is free for student participants, and Hamilton and Samples encouraged anyone wishing to support the program — either through donations or mentorships — to reach out to Community Action Authority.

“It’s completely free, and the reason for that is because we’re dealing with our low-income families and we want to make sure that people realize that your economic status does not determine your ability to succeed,” Hamilton said.

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