The state of mind “I can’t” doesn’t exist at an East Valley nonprofit dedicated to showing children --- through structured after-school programs --- they most definitely can.
The focus of ICAN: Positive Programs for Youth, a Chandler-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is to show all children how to be self-confident, responsible, and productive members of modern society.
Shelby Pederson, ICAN’s chief executive officer, says the mission founded about 30 years ago is a vital part of the Chandler community.
“ICAN’s mission is to provide free, comprehensive programs that empower youth to be productive, self-confident, and responsible members of our community,” she said recalling the inception of the program based at 650 E. Morelos Street in the heart of Chandler.
“ICAN was founded nearly 30 years ago by Henry Salinas. Henry was a resident of downtown Chandler --- he saw gang violence taking over his community and sought to make a change. He started working with teens in the community, meeting at the park to play basketball --- talking to them about what it would take to keep them out of gangs.”
What started as one man’s effort to improve his community has blossomed into a foundation of love and support for the community’s youth.
“Henry’s time and compassion with local teens all of those years ago have grown exponentially over the years. ICAN typically serves over 2,500 youth each year --- with 500 youth a year at the after-school program and another 2,000 youth through in-school life skills training with Chandler Unified School District,” Ms. Pederson explains.
But as the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic reshapes the world, Ms. Pederson contends, the ICAN attitude is prevailing.
“The COVID crisis has impacted the number of youth ICAN is serving and ICAN has remained flexible throughout the crisis to ensure we are best serving our youth and families,” she explained of the current state of affairs. “ICAN is open for summer programs, with a limited number of youth attending. ICAN will remain open full-days for the duration of schools postponing in-person learning and continue to work closely with Chandler Unified School District to support youth in the community.”
--- Shelby Pederson
Ms. Pederson points out ICAN’s original footprint was downtown Chandler, but the nonprofit endeavor serves children from all over the East Valley.
“ICAN serves the East Valley community, but particularly the downtown Chandler area --- where government housing, trailer parks and rundown apartments house a population that includes 30,000 youth,” she said of the vicious cycle of poverty.
“ICAN’s main goal is to break the cycle of poverty, creating a new pathway for future success. This goal is accomplished through our positive youth development program, which offers a holistic approach to helping youth from disadvantaged backgrounds to prevent and overcome life challenges and prepare for healthy transitions to adulthood.”
While the cyclical nature of poverty can keep families intertwined, Ms. Pederson says through constructive efforts, that cycle can be broken.
She has seen it, she says.
“After-school programs are critical, especially for low-income families,” she said of what she has learned working the day-to-day problem. “Juvenile crime peaks during the after-school hours of 3 to 6 p.m. --- across the country there are 11.3 million kids alone and unsupervised during these hours. Programs such as ICAN’s are so important for these families --- providing structured, caring environments make a huge difference in the lives of youth.”
For Ms. Pederson, the key is following the 5Cs --- an established and effective youth development model. Turns out, children don’t need to be fixed, they need to be nurtured, Ms. Pederson says.
“The program closely follows the ‘5Cs of Positive Youth Development Model,’ which is a nationally-recognized youth engagement model that focuses not on ‘fixing’ behavior problems, but building and nurturing all a child’s beliefs, behaviors, knowledge, attributes, and skills. The 5 C’s of positive youth development include connection, confidence, character, competence, and contribution.”
Every year and day after day, Ms. Pederson says, ICAN officials report positive impacts of the program on local students participating in the after-school curriculum.
“ICAN sees annual gains among all youth in the areas of academic achievement, life skills, positive relationships, and self-confidence,” she said recalling the experience of Lejon Davis, a Chandler student who almost fell through the cracks.
“ICAN staff are incredibly proud of Lejon Davis, who graduated from Chandler High in May of 2019 and started college in August at the prestigious Howard University in Washington, D.C. Lejon attended ICAN programs from the age of 5, all the way through high school. When Lejon was in elementary school, he frequently got in trouble at school and at ICAN.”
One day, an ICAN staff member provided Lejon with more math work than he could handle --- well, that’s what they thought.
“He was a handful,” Ms. Pederson explained of the early days of figuring Lejon out.
“One of the ICAN staff members started giving him extra math sheets, which kept him busy. They quickly realized that Lejon’s issue was that he was gifted. His mom got him into the gifted program at school and his behavior improved drastically.”
Today Lejon is heading into his sophomore year at Howard University.
Fiesta Bowl Charities, a Scottsdale-based charity organization, provides Arizona nonprofits with grants on an annual basis to help move the nonprofit needle forward.
This year, Fiesta Bowl Charities provided ICAN with a $25,000 grant focused on shouldering costs ensuring the 500 ICAN students can continue the after-school programs.
“ICAN is an amazing organization in the Chandler community that is dedicated to the kids and families they serve,” said Kristina Chumpol, Fiesta Bowl Charities community outreach director. “ICAN and Fiesta Bowl Charities share in their priorities and vision for enhancing the lives of youth --- specifically through education and sports.”
--- Kristina Chumpol
Ms. Pederson says those grant dollars are essential to the ICAN mission.
“ICAN is so appreciative to have received a grant from Fiesta Bowl Charities,” she said.
“Their grant directly supports the 500 youth who participate in the positive youth development program on-site at ICAN. Youth who attend the program are divided into age groups and work closely with ICAN staff and volunteers.”
Breaking the cycle of poverty is an all-in enterprise, and Ms. Chumpol says Fiesta Bowl Charities seeks to support that kind of effort indefinitely.
“ICAN is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty in the communities they serve by teaching life skills, supporting academic supports, and promoting healthy lifestyles,” she said. “These dollars are contributing directly to this effort.”
Ms. Pederson points out ICAN is a small, but mighty nonprofit organization.
“ICAN is a small, independent nonprofit. Our fundraising team is responsible for raising all of the dollars needed to operate our facility each year,” she said of annual fundraising efforts.
“Funding from Fiesta Bowl Charities is critical to ensuring that our youth continue to receive support through our free programs. Fiesta Bowl Charities supports many nonprofits across the Valley and their community engagement with their nonprofit partners is unsurpassed. They not only provide funding to their partners, they creatively engage with their partners throughout the year --- providing a platform for us to share our message with the broader community. We are so grateful for the support and partnership with Fiesta Bowl Charities.”
Go to ICANAZ.org.