TAMPA, Fla. — Since 1996, the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope has made it their mission to help disenfranchised youth and adults believe in themselves to do more with their lives.
The executive director of the nonprofit tells ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska some of their students are homeless, have a parent or family member in prison or are in trouble with the law themselves. But, they see the potential in everyone willing to make a change.
"The public likes to use the saying that students are at risk. I like to say they are at-promise because there is a promising person just like you said with Dontarius, there is a promising person; he just needs a hand up," Executive Director Titania Lamb said. "We have training that allows young people to complete their education, or their high school diploma, as well as get a vocational track so that they can gain sustainable employment."
The goal is to inspire students to choose a career path to enrich their lives.
"So, we focus on construction, we focus on IT, and we focus on manufacturing. Students can choose other tracks, but those are the ones where we provide the training in-house," Lamb said.
The program started in 1996 to get people through high school and college. Their focus is on disenfranchised youths who drop out of school. Lamb says some are heading down the wrong path, others are experiencing homelessness and some come from broken families. One of their greatest needs is for volunteers.
"If we had more mentors that came to the table who wanted to mentor young people, there are always students on the waiting list who want to have a mentor and need mentors to help them along the way," Lamb said.
Graduates of the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope say it changed their lives.
"The group has been good for me, you see, I'm in college," Shayla Plair said.
Plair is the only one in her immediate family to go to school. She plans to study criminal justice and one day go to law school.
"I'm going to school so that I can make the life for my mom that we did not have," Plair said.
"To be honest about it, life was rough," Dontarius Spigner said. "I used just to be out and about running the streets, but as me being in that situation, I realized that's not the life I wanted. I wanted to make a better path for myself and a better path for my family. I opened up my religious ways to God."
Spigner said he searched for a program that could help him when he found the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope online. Then he says fate stepped in.
"My probation officer told me about this, and I was like, well, so I was like there must be a reason for me to come here," Spigner said. "You might think it's hard, but if you put your mind and time to it, it's easy. Just like playing football, you gotta want to be dedicated and keep going."
Spigner plans to enroll at Hillsborough Community College to be a dental assistant.