The program changing the lives of at-risk youth who want an education.
The program changing the lives of at-risk youth who want an education.
When she's off the runway, Dilone keeps herself busy. The supermodel likely doesn't have a ton of free time, but when she does, a decent chunk of it is spent supporting Urban Dove, a non-profit that helps at-risk youth develop the skills they need to graduate from school and eventually earn a living. There is a disproportionate and disheartening amount of kids who are left behind when it comes to academia, and programs like this are making a very real change for these underprivileged and often overlooked individuals. We sat down with Dilone to talk about why she got involved, and how you can help as well. (Hint, donating here is a good start).
MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG: Can you tell me about how and why you got involved?
DILONE: Sure. Well, first of all, I'm a person of empowerment and inclusion. For all people of all backgrounds. And I am a person of service, and DNA, the agency I'm assigned with, they know this; and they know that one of my dreams has always been to open up an after-school [or recreational] program where kids can come and express themselves through sports and arts. And they were like, "Well we actually know something that already exists that's really quite similar." So, Urban Dove was founded in 1998 and they were an after-school program. And the coach, his name's Jay Manda, the founder of it. He realized that sports had a really amazing impact on students inside and outside classrooms. And then they realized that there's no point in going and having an after-school program and the kids aren't in schools to begin with. So, in 2012 he proposed to the Department of Education to turn it into a charter school. Actually, I'm sure he was in it for 2012, but that was when they finally formed their first charter school in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. They actually had two locations. Now you have a second location that just opened up last year and the Bronx and South Bronx. And they're working on opening up one in 2020 in Queens. It's a really big proposition to give the Department of Education to say we want to open up a school. And especially [one] based on sports.
MR: So It is publicly funded?
D: It's a non-profit organization, Yeah. It's really amazing. Right now the Brooklyn location is actually located inside of the church.
MR: I wanted to know why this particular cause and what it means to you?
D: Well I have a problem with the traditional system the education system has. So, it's like this idea of...you do something wrong and then we punish you, and then you probably get a suspension for that and not looking at the deeper root of the issue 'why.' And I really love their mission at their school. They use this mission of sports to get kids back on track because, first of all, they accept at-risk youth where no other schools will accept them. So, the at-risk youth meaning that they have behavioral or academic issues. They are likely to drop out and they are either over-aged or under-credited.
MR: So they're technically behind on the kind of track they should be on?
D: Yeah exactly. It's really amazing. Jay, the founder, will actively go and recruit students who go into these schools, and you say 'give me your students' and they're like, 'thank God.' And this is really sad actually. The first time I found out about them I did a lot of research on him, and after speaking with him it really brought me to tears because you know these kids are so overlooked if they get suspended it's statistically proven that when kids are suspended, they get brought back and the system that the schools follow. You know teachers get like roused when they are reprimanding a student and they're more likely and more inclined to reprimand the student after they've already been suspended and they can get suspended for texting or whatever really silly things and or like profanity all these things which are like undoubtedly like, you know, things to look at but no reason to suspend someone. Once these kids are suspended it really, you know, they start to look down on you. And when you go in with that attitude it feels like the teachers don't want to work with you. So, Urban Dove has an amazing system set up when you first go into the school. They assign you to a single gender team and this team follows you throughout every year. And this team is assigned a coach, and this coach goes in with you and they say the words and they work with your teachers, they work with your social workers or guidance counselors, administrators. They are with you in classrooms helping you with the homework and tests and everything. And the parent meetings you know they're really engaged and it's really cool because the coaches will also go with you from ninth all the way to 12th grade.
MR: So the kids get a lot of attention?
D: Yeah and I've spoken with these kids and like, you know, a lot of it is like feeling like they think people don't really care about them, like you already feeling they're behind and like Urban Dove wants you to know that like the first year or two if you're failing or you're not doing so well it doesn't mean you give up. You still have two more years. It kind of happened to me when I was in high school. I did OK. The first two years of my second year I wasn't doing so well. [The] last year I wasn't doing so well. Teachers just don't care about you and they're like 'there's no hope.' You know you're just another statistic. And they're really with you throughout the entire four years. They are the first high school designed exclusively to serve the population of at-risk youth and also the first youth sports. For engagement which is really big and a lot of schools will not take you if you are below 16 and they will accept you if you're 15 which is also really awesome.
MR: How can people get involved?
D: It is through funding, so they are still up and running, so on June 5th they're doing their evening with the gala and that is a huge funding source Urban Dove. They have a website where people can go and donate to.
MR: Are you teaching classes?
D: I am and I was, but I kind of stepped back from that because I want them to really get the full experience so I started bringing in dance teachers who are way more qualified than I am, and it changed everything. But also they're so talented and I gave them the space to create their own dances, as well. So they'll be showing their dance at the event with the gala. Last year they weren't meant to show it even with the gala but the day that they were supposed to put it on there were weather issues, so we were trying to reschedule. And I was like 'the kids have to perform. Sorry guys.' Yeah, they have to perform, you know. And they were like, 'Well we can't reformat the gala, it's too posh' or like, you know. And I was like 'No they're gonna have to.' So we figured it out and it was fun. It's better, because, you know, it's funny. You can be so boring sometimes. Naomi Campbell came and Brandon Maxwell came and so many wonderful key people came to support. So I'm really excited for this year. It's going to be in six weeks.
MR: Can you talk more about what the kids are like?
D: So these kids... So, first of all, what these kids even go through just to go to the school – they're so happy to go into this school that they feel accepted in and where they feel included. You know, they really do have to do sports. You have to do these things, you know. And Urban Dove believes that there's a connection between physical and mental health and that's why they use sports. But, for example, the dance team – like most of my girls around the dancing are also on the Bible team and also on the cheerleading team and the basketball team.
MR: So they do multiple things?
D: They do multiple things. And you saw Townsend was so creative but to give you a little bit about their background... Yeah, I'm 24 years old and I have about a decade on most of the students, I'd say about 10 minutes or so. And I can tell you that the majority of them have seen a lot more and experienced a lot more things than I have experienced. You know a lot of them may have single parents or a lot of the old schools were really violent so a lot of them were leaving the schools because of the violence there that they wanted to leave behind and then drugs, of course, and just at-risk meaning that like they're coming from really hard backgrounds, so it makes sense as to why they're academics. Yeah, you know their skills aren't up to par because their home life is really difficult for them.
MR: So they are set up for failure?
D: From the start economically, yeah. Like 93 percent of them are under the poverty line. It is really amazing and upsetting. So anyone who is there really wants to be there? Yeah. Which is probably really good. And you don't even know, like some of these kids are coming from like... it's really cool that they're opening one of the Queens because they have a better transit system in Queens, better connections. Those kids [are] coming from Upper Manhattan all the way to Bedstuy. There are kids coming from Coney Island. You know, the Bronx. It's just to go to school where they feel like included.
MR: How many kids are there?
D: I mean in 2012 I believe it was 92 kids. They started with 92 transfer kids and now it's about 500 and they're looking to be at about 1,500 soon.
MR: And the kids are 15 to 18 basically?
D: 15 to 21.
MR: On the economic side, are a lot of these kids having to both go to school and be working afterward?
D: Yeah, I know some of the students do have jobs – like I know someone works. I know one person works at McDonald's, but last year we had Tory Burch sponsoring them and they're so generous. Tory Burch is very, very generous but we are trying to see what else they can do. Like, for example, we're talking about maybe having one of the students do an internship at Tory Burch.
MR: It's huge. I mean, I may be making an assumption but I feel like on a personal level for you, working in this industry it's so nice to do something that is completely unrelated.
D: You know, like we did this for like us, right. Yes. Like how far and probably a little bit for our egos, too, but, you know, it's because this is like our desire to do this type of work, but like, you know, we do stuff like Urban Dove in like reaching out to all these organizations for our souls. Like I feel like this is really our life's purpose: to be of service for one another and their community improvement. I really believe this in our education system and for the children. So, yeah. That's where I want my attention to go. Yeah, I wanna use my platform for it, for that reason and to give it back.