Congratulations to the Devoted Dreamers Academy for completing their first summer program. The Devoted Dreamers Academy is a summer program started by Demario Davis for middle school students based at Mission First in Jackson, Mississippi. This three part blog series will describe the process Smarter Learning Group went through with Demario Davis to make this program a reality. Read the second and third installments. 

Demario Davis, linebacker for the New York Jets, wanted to give back to his community. He had a vision for a summer camp in Jackson, Mississippi but he had a lot of questions about how to best implement a program, so he contacted Athletes for Hope who put him in touch with the Smarter Learning Group. We worked closely with him, advising him on several operational options—from starting a summer camp from scratch to imbedding a program with an existing organization. We created a budget for the program and over the course of several discussions, we worked with Demario to narrow down top goals for the program. Based on these discussions, he decided he wanted to run the program in conjunction with an existing organization. He wanted the program to have learning, athletic and character development components. He wanted to target middle school students and he wanted them to have a lot of fun.

Once the top goals for the program were clear, Smarter Learning Group used its relationship with the local Jackson United Way organization to vet possible sites for the Devoted Dreamers Academy. The United Way recommended several good programs in the area. Smarter Learning Group staff visited each site and spoke with staff. It was important to get a sense of the capacity of the organization with questions such as:

  • How many young people does the organization currently serve?
  • Do they have athletic facilities (especially a gym and access to fields)?
  • Do they have classroom space?
  • Will computers with internet access be available?
  • Is the organization’s fiscal situation a sound one?
  • Do they have a staffing and volunteer pattern that suggest that they will be able to take on an additional program?
  • Is there a need for the program?
  • Does the program feel like it will be a fit for Demario’s vision and goals?

Following the site visit, Smarter Learning Group staff discussed each organization—outlining any pros and cons—with Demario and made the recommendation that they focus their efforts on more due diligence on what they considered to be the best fit for the program—Mission First. Mission First had the necessary facilities and staff capacity to operate the program. They were also in a solid situation fiscally. Finally, their program philosophy was in line with Demario’s vision for the program.

Smarter Learning Group’s next steps included a follow-up visit with Mission First to discuss more concrete with details for the program and to sign a Memorandum of Understanding. During that meeting Mission First staff and Smarter Learning Group staff discussed topics such as:

  • Best days and times to operate the program,
  • Number of middle school teens the program had the capacity to serve,
  • Minimum staff and volunteers needed,
  • A general budget for the program,
  • A plan for staff training, etc.

Through discussions with Mission First and Demario, staff decided that the program would operate for seven Fridays in the summer. The goal was to serve about 65 participants. In addition to the young people Mission First served and would recruit for the program, Demario planned to have some young people from his church participate as well.

Next week: Developing the Program Curriculum and Training Staff and Volunteers