Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on nonprofit organizations that improve North Okaloosa County residents’ quality of life.
CRESTVIEW — The Belief Foundation is celebrating its first year at its center in downtown Crestview.
The not-for-profit organization partners with local schools and the juvenile court system to provide mentoring for at-risk middle and high school youths living in the Crestview area.
“We're teaching them how to defend themselves with education,” said Rosa Rivera, director of the Belief Foundation. “Empowering them with education. By doing that, they get into the rhythm of 'I want to get my high school diploma, I want to stop what I'm doing.'”
A cookout and fundraiser Saturday also served as a memorial for the organization's co-founder, Jeremias “Cheeko” Rodriguez, who died in February. Rodriguez and his mother, Rivera, started a 24-hour response line to help children in emergencies. The phone number was printed on bracelets given to local children through schools and Belief Foundation events.
“My son was the one that would go out at all hours of the night and pick up the kids,” Rivera said. “We would make chicken noodle soup and hot chocolate. We would give them blankets so they can sleep. That's what we do here.”
The foundation pairs each of its students with a volunteer mentor who provides two hours of tutoring each week at the center. Each child's curriculum is individualized to develop areas of academic weakness and help achieve personal goals.
“My goal for the first year was for us to get one graduate and at least seven children with grades in the 40s and 50s and get them to A's and B's. It was very successful,” Rivera said. “We have one that went to Crestview High School. His grades were in the 30s, he was about to fail. He was in a special class. This year, he got all 80s and 90s.”
All volunteers must pass a background check. Rivera said most of the volunteers come from Crestview; a few live in Niceville. Additional volunteers lead programs outside the two-hour tutoring, such as dance classes in the center's music and dance studio.
“We teach them how to dress and present themselves properly. Hardees works very closely with us,” Rivera said.
“The goal for next year is to expand, with the amount of children we are getting from the probation officers, the Wraparound Program and the schools,” Rivera said. This year the foundation is organizing a basketball team at Crestview High School.”
Also new for this year is the “Dress for Success” program.
“We're going to teach them how to make their clothes,” Rivera said. “We're going to teach them how to sew and how to cook.”
Over two dozen people attended Saturday’s celebration, which featured a DJ, professional singers and a dance performance by one of the foundation's students.
Emerald Isle Seafood provided a crawfish boil and Just Faith Ministries grilled. The Emerald Coast Bag Ladies were on-site to teach those interested how to create mats for homeless individuals out of plastic grocery bags.