A whole new world

caines | 1/4/2012, 7:30 a.m.

Non-profit exposes at-risk youth to new environments

Attending a Youth Jam where you can receive free toys, enjoy free musical acts and various games, and meet rapper Trina sounds as if it would be a dream come true for any Miami youth. But Travis Sands, the CEO of Our Chance Enterprise, Inc. (OCE), the non-profit organization that hosted the event, hopes that the 150 children and teens who attended the event left with an important message. The Christmas holiday and the Youth Jam were about loving one another and giving back to the community, according to Sands. For the 26-year old Sands, this is a lesson that he learned from his own life. Raised in Miami by a single mother with two other siblings, having enough money for the necessities was always a struggle. However, his mothers determination to give her children more in spite of their limited economic means led Sands to be enrolled in several local youth programs offered by institutions such as the YMCA and the Belafonte TACOLCY Center. Those are some of the community organizations that [helped] build me up, he recalled. One of his best opportunities came from participating in the Orange Bowl. I basically volunteered with [the Orange Bowl] for 10 years and was exposed to a lot of great people and that gave me a lot of self confidence, said Sands, who currently serves as festival chair on the Orange Bowls Executive Committee. Remembering how much he benefited from such exposure, Sands, who also works as an air conditioning mechanic for the Miami-Dade County School Board, decided to form his own non-profit organization for local at-risk youth in February 2010. I knew that I wanted to have a program to help people like me, he said. I didnt want anyone to go through what I had been though. I had to find out a lot of things for myself. There was no one there to show me. OCE offers free social empowerment programs for five to 18 year olds such as Youth Chat, a monthly meet up where young people can talk about their issues with mentors, talent showcases and field trips. One of the major things at Our Chance Enterprise does is have kids be exposed to everything because you never know what will really affect a child until you really expose them to it, Sands said. He estimates that so far, 300 youth have participated in the social empowerment programs. Our Chance Enterprises even offers tutoring for tests such the FCAT, ACT, and SAT. One of the organizations newer services is the free Foundational Development program which was created to help youth learn a wide variety of life skills from the basics of hygiene to financial planning to leadership. Part of the Foundational Development program is to cater to individual childrens needs, so participants are assigned to one of three volunteers that are called youth advisors. Basically we help them in anything that they might need whether its academic or extra curriculum activities, explained OCEs youth advisor Marleni Orellane. Sometimes we will even visit their school on behalf of the parents. The 23-year-old Broward Community College student has worked with about 10 children. Sometimes, Orellane duties are as simple as letting parents know about other programs that are available in the community. For more information about Our Chance Enterprise, Inc., please visit www.ourchanceenterprise.com. By Kaila Heardkheard@miamitimesonline.com