MARIETTA, Ga - A Marietta after school non-profit that mentors underprivileged students is struggling to find the money. The program called YELLS, Youth Empowerment through Learning, Leading and Serving, lost its funding after countywide budget cuts.
YELLS provides tutoring and teaches leadership skills to children in the Franklin Gateway community of Marietta. It's an area with a reputation for high crime and poverty.
"It's all about empowering youth and their families to be the ones to shape their neighborhoods and the community," said Laura Keefe.
Keefe is a former teacher who started the program 11 years ago. She said a little more than 100 students attend the program housed in a building on Franklin Gateway.
In addition to mentoring and tutoring, students are taught real-world business skills to help them succeed. There's a cafe on-site called the Community Action Cafe. It's set up and run by students and is open to the community.
"We give them the opportunity to lead large scale projects and events now, so that grows their leadership and then they give it back to the community throughout their whole lives," said Keefe.
Justin Virgle is a senior in high school. He's gone to YELLS since he was a freshman.
"Before I came here I didn't have that confidence, passion, and growth to keep going and have confidence not to give up on anything," said Virgle.
Keefe said the program took a financial hit this year when Cobb County cut funding to all non-profits.
"We're trying to fill that gap and keep the program going but $65,000 is a big loss," said Keefe.
Keefe has been reaching out to individuals and corporations for sponsorships. Now, the students are taking action too. Using the leadership skills, they've learned, they set up a phone bank hoping to get donations to keep the programming.
"It's important because what we do here is impacting the community," said Rachely Castillo who attends YELLS.
Keefe says they're hoping to raise $30,000 to keep them open through the end of the school year. You can find out more about YELLS on their website, YELLSinc.org