My name is Shantisha but everyone calls me Tisha and I have a 15-year-old son named Cameron. We have lived in Charlottesville since he was born and moved to the Prospect area in 2006, approximately 12 years ago. From the moment Cameron was born I always did my best to raise him right, teach him manners and encourage him to have goals. I was a single parent, and still am, to him and at the time brother and sister. I always knew if I did everything in my power then I would end up with a great kid. I’m pretty smart and nerdy and could help in learning, and writing, and math and learning new things – everything except one thing. I couldn’t teach him the importance and the responsibility of being and becoming a man.
Then we met Richard and Dylan and the crew at Abundant Life. They had this 5/8 Club for the boys in the neighborhood and they took them under their wing. Cameron started going away to Camp Wabana and learned about friendship, fishing, zip lining, mosquito bites, poison ivy, and having an older brother figure there to talk him through the good and the bad. Whenever we needed extra help paying for trips to King’s Dominion or wherever they were there for me as well. I then started to realize after Cameron’s 8th grade year that 5/8 was ending and what was I going to do? Never fear because my heroes were near. They introduced us to the STRIVE program.
STRIVE is a wonderful program for all those boys going through the “awkward” years to develop skills, be mentored, learn community responsibility, prepare for college, and be introduced to a whole new world for some of them. Most importantly, it has equipped my guy with confidence and poise to go out into the real world and present himself without fear of rejection or the dreaded “unknown.”
In the past 2 years they have taken road trips to different colleges during spring break. I have to hand it to Dylan and Richard – taking a bunch of teenage boys on a road trip for a week would be a nightmare for some, but these guys handled it like champs. The enthusiasm I see in my son’s face right before it’s time to leave is priceless. In addition to the college trips, he was able to pick a mentor for himself and they both signed contracts to stick by each other until graduation. That’s such an awesome gesture by the mentors and the mentees to say, “Yes, I am going to do the community service and dinners and requirements. Yes, I am going to come to you for advice and mentorship, brotherhood, and leadership.”
Being in the STRIVE program, these talented young men get to be role models for the younger 5/8 crew and kids younger in the tutoring program to aspire to be just like them. A success story is what STRIVE is turning our community kids into. I am forever grateful for Abundant Life being in Cameron’s life from the start, teaching him things that I couldn’t, taking him places outside of here, showing him and the other members that the sky is the limit and with a little work, elbow grease, networking skills, and help from the community that they have helped serve and give back to already…their potential is limitless. That right there is a big blessing, and I hope to help keep this program going for years to come! Seeing my other son go through this program is going to be great to watch.
For sure, hearing “when I go off to college” versus “if I can go to college” is all thanks to STRIVE and their strong efforts with the young men in this community. Cameron now says, “When I go to college I’m going to be a radiologist and maybe minor in linguistics.” I now smile and have become so humble and thankful to Abundant Life and their STRIVE program and all of their programs. My family (my 4 kids and I), I don’t know where we would be without them.