Karmella Wright wanted to make a difference in the lives of at-risk children. She found the opportunity to do just that at Dream Tree Academy 573, where she now serves as the Vice President. “It is a career path that allows me to make a difference while working alongside dedicated individuals who share my passion for helping vulnerable young people,” she said. “By providing support, guidance and resources, I can play a crucial role in empowering them to overcome challenges, break negative cycles and achieve their full potential.” She sees this empowerment every day in the form of young people working toward achieving goals they may not have previously pursued. For example, she reflected on the journey of a young girl who participated in their program at the auto repair shop, Pride Auto. “Under the guidance of Sean, the owner, she acquired practical skills such as oil changes, tire replacements and other essential repairs. Her exceptional aptitude and passion led her to intern at the shop, and now she is pursuing her dream of becoming an auto mechanic,” Wright said.
This budding auto mechanic’s story also resonated with Ray Hall, Dream Tree Academy 573’s CEO and Founder. Hall, who is also REDI’s Minority Business Coordinator, was struck by the student’s ambition. “She is currently working at [Pride Auto] and has decided that when she graduates, she will open her own auto shop,” he said.
Hall’s idea for Dream Tree Academy came to him after he attended a fine arts school to pursue his love of music, which he believes saved him from “the wrong path.” He said, “While many of my peers were in the streets, I was in the studio.” He wanted to provide similar opportunities for kids who want to find a detour to a more successful path than the one they find themselves on.
What had initially begun as a music school quickly evolved beyond that scope. “I realized that to change lives, I would have to help change the mindsets of the students, parents and guardians,” Hall said. “Adding more classes about mental health, workforce development, youth entrepreneurship and job readiness was vital.” For Wright, providing these course offerings and programming enables them to create an environment in which young people can become “dynamic individuals” who are “equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue their educational goals and embrace a culturally enriched way of life through entrepreneurship.”
Hall was able to start this nonprofit with the support of coaching provided by REDI, and in his role as the Minority Business Coordinator, he is now a coach himself and is furthering REDI’s mission to enhance the vitality of local businesses. “[Working at REDI] allows me to help adults the same way I help the youth,” he said.
Both Hall and Wright described the importance of the relationship between their organization and the community. “The relationship between a nonprofit organization focused on at-risk youth and the community is integral to the success of both entities,” Wright said. “Since we serve at-risk youth, we rely on collaborative partnerships with various community stakeholders. These stakeholders can include local government agencies, schools, businesses, community organizations, volunteers and residents.”
One of these partnerships is aimed at providing kids in the community with school supplies so that they are set up to succeed during the school year. “We are excited to partner with Heart of MO/CASA, Karis Church, and [the University of Missouri] to help kids in our community return to school with the supplies they need to succeed this fall,” Wright said. “Free food, games, and school supplies will be available on August 19th.”If you would like to help support this effort, you can access a back to school wishlist here.