Monday, May 4, 2009

Local Woman Wants To Offer More Chances To Urban Boys

Let’s be frank, the urban school system in this country doesn’t have the best reputation in the world. But while everybody has their own opinion as to why this happens to be, not many people outside of the government are doing much about it.

Local Chester resident, Yvette Long, is.

“On the outside looking in, you blame the kids for joining gangs,” Long says, who has started up a non-profit organization in 2006 called Platinum Minds that she got the inspiration for after reading a newspaper article about inner city children living in a destructive environment, “But if you’re that kid and you’re scared to go to school because you think you’re going to get harassed or beaten up, joining a gang for protection might seem like [the only option for you].”

While not everybody is going to agree with this notion, Long only has the inner-city students from ages 11-18 in mind, as she has set up shop in her house to make it so any young urban male with a grade average of a B or higher has a way out of a potentially dangerous environment if they’re looking for it.

“I had been a model for most of my life,” says Long, who was once also into acting and singing but now has two kids, “But once I had my children, I kind of put that behind me and thought I could do more [for others].

And that more for others is Platinum Minds, which, outside of having preparatory classes for tests like the S.A.T.s, also finds more reputable schools and even homes for inner city boys who are aware that there are opportunities outside of their communities.

“Last year, we placed five students into schools,” says Long, “and this year, we have eight who are accepted and another four who are going to be accepted.”

Even so, Ms. Long doesn’t want people to come to the conclusion that she thinks urban schools are bad, or even that the people who run them are not doing a good job.

“We do understand that the [urban] schools can have great teachers,” says Long, who doesn’t want people to think she’s crusading against inner-city education, “but their hands might be tied because of some unruly students and it becomes less about learning and more about disciplining those students,” she says.

But sending these students out to college prep schools doesn’t necessarily come cheap, especially if Long and her group are not able to find a host family to take in the child in case they have to move or pay tuition. And so they rely on students getting scholarships and the generous donations of others.

“We had a very successful fundraiser [at the Olde Mill Inn Basking Ridge on April 24th] and it went very well,” says Long, who is also trying to send all of her current students out to summer camps in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, “but it wasn’t enough to get all of our kids into summer camp.”

Outside of the community donations, she also has been getting a great deal of help from the Gacksetter Foundation and the William Simon Foundation, as well as Jane Geiger from Far Hills Country’s Day-School.

“They have really made it possible for the kids to move on,” says Long.

Wherever she gets help from though, even if it’s just a contribution of $25, which she says, “adds up,” she still lives by the question: “Do you want to be in the game, or on the sidelines?”

For Long, that question is rhetorical, as she is already knee deep in “the game.”

“Together we can come together and really make an impact,” Long says.

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