Do you know teenagers who have made foolish decisions that set the course for a frustrated disastrous future? How many times have you heard an exasperated parent say, "My teenager is driving me crazy?" How many times have you asked the typical teenager what they want to become in life, and the answer is, “I don’t know, or, I’m not sure.” Would you have made different decisions about your future, had you been clearly exposed to more choices? Discovery Youth Foundation was born to address challenges that are unique to teenagers and parents of teens.
I am Gary Smith, and served as Youth Minister for a large inner-city church for ten years, loving every minute. In ten years I discovered teenagers are confused, moody, and very fragile creatures. A good word to describe them is, "searching." Teens are searching for acceptance, approval, purpose, and identity. The scary truth is, while many of them are searching, several lose their way, never to return, or recover from one, or more poor decisions. The result is played out in aggressive rebellion, handcuffs, tragic drug abuse, and too often, a premature trip to the cemetery. I have witnessed the dilemma in private sessions with unmotivated, unconcerned teens, and frustrated, clueless parents. My wife and I experienced the raging emotions of three teenage daughters first-hand, and came dreadfully close to losing all of them to the treacherous waters of adolescence. We soon discovered we were not alone. As we sought remedies to combat the challenges of our daughters, church members, and many of their friends, we realized most parents and teens are left to fend for themselves. The advice most parents get when seeking solutions is, “Your teen is going through a phase, and most get through it fine.” Our reality painted a much different picture, and for this reason, thank God, a concerned group of dedicated individuals vowed to do something positive about this far reaching problem.
Discovery Youth Foundation was formed because very few institutions, or people, have the knowledge, resources, patience, or heart to meet the unique challenges of teenagers searching for identity. On September 10, 2005 in Houston, Texas, at the M.O. Campbell Educational Center a passionate group of committed parents, school principals, educators, and business leaders assembled and addressed the question, “What can we do to assist parents, and motivate teenagers to make wise life choices and reach their full potential?” The answers laid the foundation for Discovery Youth Foundation. The next, and even more important question was, “Will you actively commit a portion of your resources and time to making Discovery Youth Foundation a reality?” The answer was a resounding “Yes,” and from this, and subsequent meetings, a twenty-one member Board of Directors was confirmed. Our strategy was to shape an extraordinary summer enrichment program that would introduce teenagers to exciting careers, entrepreneurship, community involvement, and life management skills. The summer program would be highly structured, challenging, motivating, and a mixture of engaging activities. Learners would be introduced to different ventures each day. Success partners would be expected to make memorable, practical presentations by including classroom and hands-on experiences. Students would be exposed to fields and environments they never knew existed. Teens would be challenged to expand their vocabularies and read positive books. Mentors would be assigned to monitor year-round progress. Teens would participate in community service projects. Students would dress in tidy uniforms, and be rewarded with incentives for active participation.
Ten years has passed since the launch of Discovery Youth Foundation. Our mission statement is clear, “In a positive environment, we motivate students to DISCOVER, DEVELOP, and EMPLOY their God-Given talents, igniting a passion for achievement and self-improvement. Our aim is to expose teens to diverse environments that offer the best opportunities to succeed in life.” We are elated to report that the expectations of the foundation are being exceeded every single day with a new success story of one of our students. In ten years, underexposed students in Houston, Texas metropolitan area and beyond, are now in college, or have graduated from college with advanced degrees in a variety of fields. Several serve in school government organizations. Scholarships have been distributed to students that participated in DYF for at least two summers. Several DYF alumni have come back to volunteer as student chaperones in the program. Our greatest reward is realized when a parent or student says, “Thank you for helping me through a critical time of my life.” Our desire is to expand the foundations reach to help more teenagers and parents in years to come.