Youth program formed In Katrina’s wake approaches 10-year milestone

Excite! All-stars youth program (photos provided by: Excite!)

Ebony Edwards and the Excite! All-Stars youth program have practically grown up together.  The 19-year-old began attending Excite! almost a decade ago just as Gerald and Penny Williams were getting Excite off the ground.

She remembers enjoying the chance to journal about her feelings in those first years after Hurricane Katrina, as well as dance.  “Any kind of dance,” says Edwards, “theatrical, hip-hop, all kinds.”

Through her years as a camper, the counselors at Excite! noticed something else about Edwards.

 “I always kinda loved being in charge,” Edwards says, “and my counselors always gave me the opportunity to be in charge.”  It could be seemingly small things like leading the line, “but I always felt like, ‘yeah, I’m leading the line.’”

So it should come as no surprise that Edwards, when she’s not studying Psychology and Chemistry at Xavier, now serves as Program Director.  And as a new crop of campers enter the Excite! program, she hopes they find “that thing they love to do while here.”

For Imari Bermudez, that thing might be dancing, acting or singing, things she says she doesn’t get to do at regular school.

But it also just might be canoeing, which she did on the week-long Excite! overnight camp at Fountainebleau State Park.

While it was her first camping experience, Bermudez says she wasn’t scared…except for a spider or two.

She and her brother, Tino, began coming to Excite! last summer.  While Tino wants to become a firefighter as an adult, and Imari wants to be a dance teacher, they both say they want to become counselors at Excite! before then.

Gerald and Penny Williams founded Excite! in 2008 as a direct response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the enormous toll its effect had on the children and youth of the Greater New Orleans area and beyond.

Their overall mission then and now is to provide positive opportunities and experiences for youth between the ages of 6-15 that will help them become individuals who will make a powerful impact on their communities now and well into adulthood, providing a multi-generational effect.

This is accomplished through the implementation of Directed Initiatives for Youth (DIY)’s proven summer and year-round enrichment programing. It’s a comprehensive, multifaceted curriculum and program that addresses the “whole child,” using an all-inclusive approach combining academics, the arts, athletics, nutrition and good stewardship programming under the umbrella, Excite! All Stars.

“They have a special program just for the teens that has really helped me a lot with my daughter becoming a teenager,” says Tanis Quillens, whose daughter, Nylah, has been attending Excite! since 2009.  “I also like the STEM and computer programming.”

Quillens says she also appreciates how Excite! is involved year-round, not just during the summer.  “They ask for report card grades, and they do after school-tutoring.”

As for Nylah, she says she loves Zumba, something she doesn’t get to do at school.  “It’s fun, and it’s a good workout.”

As Excite! enters its second decade, Gerald Williams says he and Penny hope that “the youth that we serve will be inspired to make a great impact on the communities they live in, the businesses they work with and the lives that they touch.”


To learn more, visit


You must login to post a comment. Need a ViaNolaVie account? Click here to signup.