EDCI gets youth involved with their community

High school volunteer Lisee Morales (left) and youth health leadership project coordinator Lorissa Williams (right) are helping children at Maureen Joy Charter School work in their cooking matters handbook. (Staff photo by Thaddeus Berglund)

High school volunteer Lisee Morales (left) and youth health leadership project coordinator Lorissa Williams (right) are helping children at Maureen Joy Charter School work in their cooking matters handbook. (Staff photo by Thaddeus Berglund)


For the East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI), learning goes beyond just academics.

With their Youth Leadership Council (YLC), the EDCI is teaching children to become leaders in their community, and to promote health and well-being among their peers.

The YLC is a program for fourth-graders and fifth-graders at Y.E. Smith Elementary and Maureen Joy Charter School. It allows students to create their own events for their school – which focus on healthy eating, physical fitness, and learning leadership and other valuable life skills.

Lorissa Williams, the youth health leadership project coordinator for the EDCI, said one thing that makes the YLC special is that they’re “really allowing the kids to make it their own thing.”

These groups meet once a week; from 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays at Maureen Joy Charter School, and 3 to 4 p.m. on Fridays at Y.E. Smith Elementary. Currently, the students are beginning a seven week course, called cooking matters, which teaches them how to cook easy healthy meals.

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Volunteers from cooking matters beginning to teach the children about ways to cook healthy meals on a limited budget during the first of the seven week course being taught to the YLC at Maureen Joy Charter School. (Staff photo by Thaddeus Berglund)

One volunteer, Lisee Morales, 17, a senior at J.D. Clement Early College, began working with the EDCI and the YLC last fall.

“Children have so much potential,” she said.

Morales said the YLC helps take advantage of that by catching students while they’re still young and allowing them to find themselves.

Morales and other volunteers work for several hours a week inside the EDCI office coordinating events for the YLC, while also helping with, and participating in, the events at the elementary schools.

Williams said she praises everything the high school volunteers do for the program, from mentoring the children to working in the office.

Morales said seeing the children’s growth since she began working with them in October is rewarding. She said a few of the students were reluctant to get involved at first, but quickly became willing to engage with each other.

Williams had a similar sentiment, and said the difference in the children’s attitudes has been amazing, because on the first day, no one wanted to talk.

She also attributed the growth of the students in part to way the programs are “taking them out of their comfort zone.”

The students – along with help from the EDCI, volunteers from nearby J.D. Clement Early College High School, and the NCCU Campus Recreation – are planning to host a food-truck rodeo to highlight healthy cooking and eating practices at Maureen Joy Charter School, and a sports field day on March 11 that will benefit cancer research at Y.E. Smith Elementary.

These events and others are funded by a grant of $200,000 from GlaxoSmithKline – part of their effort to promote healthy youth.

While the YLC is an important part of what the EDCI does, they also run many other programs targeted at helping children in East Durham. They recently completed a sock and coat drive that generated over 300 coats, hats and socks for the families they serve. They also host a weekly walking group that utilizes the Healthy Mile Trail and will be holding weekly workshops focusing on health topics such as diabetes, strength training, and Zumba.

EDCI – Mission

EDCI – Staff

EDCI – Youth Leadership Council

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Thaddeus Berglund of Hillsborough is a senior advertising/journalism major serving with the Durham VOICE as the teen mentoring coordinator.


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