When Marcus and LaToya Warren compared their own childhoods to those of the young people around them, they saw an opportunity to promote positive change in their community.
LaToya Warren, who worked in a college financial aid office, and Marcus, a marketing professional and part-time substitute teacher, started their after-school and summer program, Reaching Our Youth, in a small community gym in 2011.
“We looked at how the times had changed since we were growing up, and what some of these children lacked,” LaToya Warren says. “What we learned was by middle or high school age many of them have already made up their mind who they are going to be, and by then it is hard to make a switch.”
They wanted their program to offer something a little different. They resolved to listen to the children in their care, discover their strengths and weaknesses, find out what motivates them, and provide consistency that would follow them throughout their lives.
“We want to see these kids succeed, and our number one thing is academics,” Warren says. “The added benefit of doing well in school is that awards make them feel good. That changes their behavior and social interactions. It affects their lives in positive ways, and they give back to their community.”
In 2016, the Warrens leased a small storefront site that allowed them to enroll more students. Now in its third location, at 710B Lowndes Hill Road, Reaching Our Youth was serving up to 50 students in its after-school program, pre-pandemic. When the Greenville County School District went all virtual, the couple pivoted quickly to offer a full-day solution for working parents.
“With safe practices and social distancing, we were able to help students to transition to virtual learning and finish the remainder of the school year successfully; 100% of our students were promoted to the next grade,” Warren says. “Though the pandemic has slowed us down, R.O.Y Upstate has consistently stayed committed to creating an environment that inspires change in our community.”
Thirty students participated in R.O.Y.’s 10-week summer program, with some limits on their usual weekly field trips. During the current school year, Reaching Our Youth Upstate has provided all-day supervision for students enrolled in virtual learning, as well as after-school pickup and child care. The results have been positive. Each of the 25 students, aged 5–18, made the AB honor roll in their respective school.
Project Host’s Cooking for Kids program provides three meals day for Reaching our Youth. Tobin Simpson, CEO of Project Host, says at the onset of the pandemic, R.O.Y was the first of the centers it serves to understand the difficulties families faced and take quick action to transition to all-day care to ease the unexpected burden virtual school posed.
“Marcus and LaToya Warren are two of the most giving individuals I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” Simpson says. “The hard work and dedication that they selflessly pour into making an impact in the lives of the children enrolled at Reaching Our Youth Upstate deserves to be celebrated and should set the standard for child enrichment programs.”
Most funding for R.O.Y. comes from weekly tuition, which is deliberately kept affordable. The rest comes from donors, including the Community Foundation of Greenville, which recently awarded $5,000 to the nonprofit. A recently launched fundraiser, “A Million People, One Purpose,” seeks funding for a new multiuse facility.
“Our ultimate goals are to purchase land and build a new and innovative community center to house our current programs and more,” Warren says. “We also plan to eventually open centers throughout the Upstate and in other parts of South Carolina. We’re here for the long haul.”
To learn more, visit https://reachingouryouthupstate.com.