When Jade Paige first heard about Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids (P.A.R.K.) in eighth grade, she was immediately intrigued by the program. Based in central Arkansas, the organization is dedicated to creating bright futures for at-risk children in grades eight through 12 by offering support with after-school programs, recreation, summer programs, community service opportunities and other activities.
Now a junior at Parkview High in Little Rock, Ark., Jade recalls the positive energy she felt the day she met one of P.A.R.K.’s recruiters. The meeting inspired her to ask her mom, Crystal Brown, for permission to join the program. “They just had a really upbeat personality that I liked, and I knew there was something I would want to surround myself with,” says Jade.
With her mom’s support, Jade went to a P.A.R.K. orientation and enrolled in a rigorous six-week summer program that requires participation in academic activities, a science fair project, grade point average monitoring, an assessment and family interview. After meeting these prerequisites, Jade was approved to be in the program in the fall when she began her next school year and has been in the program since. P.A.R.K. focuses on providing long-term guidance and building relationships with each student, so they can be in the program from when they enroll until when they graduate.
Jade enjoys participating in a variety of programs, particularly bible studies, community service and college preparation through P.A.R.K. “Community service was the best,” says Jade. “One time we went and cleaned out a church, which just helped me learn that not everyone has the same opportunities as others. It’s an eye-opener.”
Jade is also a participant in Y-LEAD (Young Leaders Engaged, Accomplished and Driven), a a program that began last October. U.S. Bank provided funding for the program as part of its $15 million Rebuild and Transform Fund, which helps to support organizations working to address systemic economic and racial inequities.
As an inaugural member, she’s had perfect attendance and finds real value in her participation. Through Y-LEAD, Jade and other students learn about topics that aren’t necessarily required or covered in school.
The group meets in-person following careful COVID-19 precautions with chairs spaced out six feet apart, and has had a recent focus on financial topics. “It was really well executed,” she explains. “This last session we learned about banks and investing money, and how to save. It’s something we’re going to need farther down the line. It’s going to be a big factor after high school when applying for college in knowing what to do with loans.”
In addition to the educational opportunities P.A.R.K. creates, Jade emphasizes the ways it’s helped her on a personal level, in terms of developing self-assurance and recognizing how much she’s capable of. “I don’t really socialize in school and talk in class, but I’m able to be more comfortable with speaking and actually participating,” says Jade. “When it’s actually time to go back to school and do in-person learning, I know that I will be better with talking in front of the class.”
Having a supportive community in an all-girls’ club has also been instrumental in creating a network and raising each other up. “It gives the girls there an escape from everything else and helps them learn self-worth,” says Jade.
Crystal is proud of her daughter’s positive transformation as well, emphasizing the progress she’s made in herself and in her interactions with others. “She’s become more confident,” says Crystal. “She used to be very quiet and to herself.”
The organization’s rewards system has also played a significant role in helping Jade achieve her goals, encouraging both accountability and discipline, which Crystal finds especially valuable. “When they go to the program, they had to do schoolwork,” she explains. “That was the biggest thing I liked about it—they had some in every subject, and they have to obtain points. At some point in the season, they’re eligible to use those points to get gifts.”
Having cultivated a love for science during her time in high school and P.A.R.K., Jade is eager to enter the field and feels she has the tools to succeed. “After high school, I plan on going to school for mechanical engineering,” she says. “P.A.R.K. helped me try to find schools who give good programs. They also do ACT prep. With that help, I think I will get better scores on my ACT which gives me a better chance get in to a higher college and be more successful in life.”
Jade credits the program’s leaders for inspiring her and creating a positive experience. “The whole P.A.R.K. staff is very helpful in keeping me on the right path. I would recommend [the program] to anybody who could do it.”
Read more stories about the helpers in our communities as well as those who’ve triumphed during a challenging year.