One of the most noticeable and consequential voids laid bare in the post-Katrina landscape was the lack of quality youth programming in the New Orleans community.
While many lamented the problem, New Orleans natives Gerald and Penny Williams took action: They founded Directed Initiatives for Youth, Inc. (DIY) in 2007 to effect change in the lives of New Orleans’ youth through summer and enrichment programs.
Their flagship summer program, Excite! All Stars, is now in its fifth year and helps kids ages 6-14 build a bridge between sport and spirit.
“The goal is to utilize a holistic approach that helps our youth find their greatness from the inside-out,” Gerald Williams said.
The motto for the 2012 Excite! season, for instance, was “Get Fit for Life,” and focused on physical activities such as weekly yoga, Zumba, swimming, tennis, and karate as well as smaller group activities.
Campers also enjoyed field trips to Audubon Zoo, rock climbing at Slidell Rocks, bowling at Colonial Lanes, hiking through Jean Lafitte State Park and canoeing in City Park.
“This generation is the first to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents,” said Williams. “We are on a mission to get them those five years back.”
The program’s older kids (12-14) ran a weekly restaurant, Café Duke, which allowed them to make a profit then used for a field trip to Blue Bayou in July. Other campers produced the new All Stars Webcast, featuring in-depth stories on the latest events at camp.
While programs similar to Excite! are not new to New Orleans, few have been able to reach so many children and have such an impact on their lives.
“In five years we have served 400 families, and the waiting list is growing,” said Williams.
Sponsors from the corporate world have also taken notice. As part of a recent partnership with Nike, Excite! All Stars were featured in the company’s “Finding your Greatness” campaign during the London Olympics.
Recent alliances with 1st Tee of New Orleans and New Orleans Youth Tennis have also brought a greater diversity of activities to the All Stars.
In order to accommodate the growing waiting list, Excite!’s main goal for the future is to secure a permanent facility that is suited for its programming, Williams said.
“This acquisition will allow us to increase capacity to serve more families, reduce operating costs, provide additional revenue streams to bring us to self sustainability and allow us to provide additional year-round programming.”
Saturday provides an opportunity to learn more about the Excite! All Stars and details about the group’s spring gala, Excite the Night, while also enjoying free specialty cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at Cure (4905 Freret St.), from 6 to 8 p.m.
There will be raffle drawings for an Apple iPad, New Orleans Sports weekend package and a New Orleans weekend getaway package, while door prizes will include a Woodhouse Day Spa package and a Hazelnut gift certificate.
Ten-dollar raffle tickets can be purchased through the Excite! Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ExciteAllStars; raffle entries also are included with each $35 online donation.
Brian Friedman writes about New Orleans for NolaVie.