Teens With A Purpose: Grooming Leaders of Tomorrow


At the corner of Olney Drive and Church Street, there lies a bare brick building. However, once you step inside of those walls there are vibrant colors, fluorescent lighting, and innovative sound.

Teens with a Purpose (TWP) is a rare program in Hampton Roads. The organization originally started in 1996 at St. Mary’s Church as a HIV and AIDS Ministry. In 2006, the program transitioned, focusing on providing programs to middle and high school students ages 12-19.

“The teens are the future. We want to have a space for them to be themselves, voice their opinion, and say what’s on their heart,” said Shana Smith, Lead Teaching Instructor.

TWP is not only offered in Norfolk, but also in Newport News, Virginia Beach, and Portsmouth; in total catering to 70 kids. The youth can choose from a number of extracurricular activities. There’s poetry, gardening, music and even photography.

“It’s made me a better writer, it’s made me a better person. It’s made me a more open person, it’s made me a more confident person,” said 15-year-old Imagine Carter.

“I came here and picked up photography. I never thought I’d do something like this,” said 15-year-old Alicia Burke.

A motto amongst the teens at TWP is “It’s a Home, Away From Home.” If you asks the kids what they love most about the program, they’ll say it’s the youth getting the opportunity to lead one another other. The adults are just there to supervise.

“We have several young people who go through our program and them come back to lead others,” said Executive Director Deirdre Love also known as “Mama Dee.”

Donovan Pollock, 19, is a prime example. Donovan joined the program as a high school freshman. He was getting into trouble at school and with the law,. Then he found a flyer about TWP’s program. Donovan leads the music division where students learn to make beats, sing, and rap. He’s also the Hampton Roads Youth Poet Laureate.

“I rap, I’m a poet. We’ve performed spoken word in various places San Francisco, Atlanta, DC, Philly. I recently performed at MIT in Boston,” said Pollock.

However, TWP is not just about empowering the youth. They’re also about empowering the community.

Across the street, the organization just opened the Safe Creative Community Space. There’s a garden in the front full of fresh vegetables. The purpose behind the lot is to host events for all of Hampton Roads to enjoy.

The garden in TWP’s Safe Creative Community Space.

On Monday, community groups came together to host a trunk-or-treat on the lot. It was the first event on the lot since its ground-breaking. Hundreds of families came out in their costumes and with their empty bags, eager for them to be filled with sweet treats.

The Safe Creative Community Space inspired the theme for the group’s annual Gala, “In Full Bloom.”

The TWP Gala helps to raise funds for the organization’s various programs. It’s an evening filled with gourmet food, a student showcase and a silent auction. The annual event honors youth in Hampton Roads with the “Move Makers” award. The winner will receive the Adam Haylock Scholarship. The award is presented to youth who have triumphed over adversity.

The TWP Gala is taking place this Thursday, Nov. 2, at the Chrysler Museum of Art. The shindig kicks off at 5:30 p.m..

You can also watch the full interview below.

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