A local nonprofit is working to change the odds for several dozen North Texas students every year, helping them build leadership skills and putting them on the right track for future success.
Every year, Dallas-based C5 Youth Foundation of Texas takes applications for its five-year leadership program, which includes “carefully sequenced, age appropriate learning experiences that provide a seamless flow of learning and growth” for students who would be the first in their families to go to college.
The Dallas Express spoke with the organization’s new executive director, Daneshe “Dani” Bethune, about the programs C5 offers and her experience there.
“We work with school districts across the DFW metroplex — Dallas ISD, Arlington, Fort Worth ISD, Grapevine-Colleyville, Irving, [and] Grand Prairie. We work with teachers, administrators, and counselors to nominate students who they believe will be a good fit for the program,” Bethune said.
She explained to The Dallas Express how C5 tries to focus on students who are enrolled in free or reduced-price lunch programs, average B’s and C’s in their school work, or live in “risky” neighborhoods or environments. Nominees are invited to apply to the program in the seventh grade.
“So for the next five years, they’ll be participating in out-of-school programming during the school year and over the summer,” Bethune said. “We really focus a lot on character development … and community service.”
Each grade cohort meets periodically throughout the year with C5 staff members who engage them in programming that includes community mapping, college and career prep, physical and mental health sessions, and financial literacy classes. Students must also participate in community service research projects. They are encouraged to identify needs in their communities, research them, and develop practical solutions.
“We’re always telling children that they need to help change the world, but it’s really hard for them to do that if they don’t even realize how they can change their own communities,” she said.
She explained to The Dallas Express that, once the students have selected an issue, like gun violence or not having access to quality education, they are instructed to identify the root causes of the problems. They visit with government officials, business leaders, and other non-profit organizations and end up formulating solutions that they present.
“This past summer, our students focused on teen homelessness in Dallas County. The top two root causes they identified were abuse and neglect and mental health. So they end up visiting two teen homeless shelters here in town. They went to an affordable housing unit. They also made 100 [hygiene kits] that could be used … and they created food pantries at their schools and then donated the food back to those two teen homeless shelters,” Bethune said.
Part of the program requires performing a certain number of hours of community service, further inculcating a leadership-style sense of responsibility and duty to those that share the city space.
“Our [students] are currently working on researching … Dallas ISD,” Bethune said. “They’ve identified … what might be some hindrances to students being able to access quality education within the school district. Now they’re reaching out to community organizations.”
Dallas ISD, the second-biggest public school district in Texas, has been struggling to effectively educate the hundreds of thousands of students in its charge. The latest Texas Education Agency accountability report indicated that only 41% of students performed at grade level on last school year’s STAAR exams and almost 20% of the graduating Class of 2022 did not earn their diplomas on time.
The Dallas Express asked Bethune how her time has been working at C5.
“I’ve worked at various non-profit organizations for 20 years … and with various charitable organizations, but I will say that out of all the places that I worked, I’m so in love with C5 Texas. This program works, it really does report to help students care about their futures, care about their communities, and I think that’s vitally important,” Bethune said.
The organization’s latest publicly accessible impact report for 2020 notes that the program had a 94% year-to-year retention rate, 98% of participants enrolled in college, and 100% of them graduated high school on time.
Good job! We need more programs like this!
I appreciate Charles Grand conducting the interview and story write-up.