Victory Project Provides After-School Alternative For Boys
Inside the large teal and tan building on Troy Street in Dayton, home to an organization called the Victory Project, there’s a lot that goes on.
VP founder and CEO, Monnie Bush is a former police officer who says he saw a need for the "alternative to the streets" program during his 15 years on the force.
"I found myself being called to homes by single mothers and grandparents trying to raise teenage boys and they didn't have that support there for whatever reason," he says. "And so, I always felt that's just is not right, you know, because I found these kids graduating from disciplinary things at home to real criminal activity. I knew there had to be some kind of mediator there."
Bush recalls having doubts about getting the privately funded, faith-based 501(c)3 started but eventually his faith and family convinced him it could be done.
"It's a total commitment. I'm financially committed, you know, my family is committed. You get to be all in in this kind of role and I've never regretted it. You know in the past 10 years it's been a blessing to me and my family. So, it's just a labor of love."
Young members of Victory Project feel much the same way. 13-year-old Jeremy Hemming and 15-year-old Deavon’te Hatch say the program has had a significant impact on their lives.
"Personally, for me, I like the Brotherhood," says Hatch. "VP has brought great joy to me and my family."
Hatch also says he enjoys the work that comes with the VP program. The group's members work on a number of landscaping and construction projects that allow them to make money.
"It teaches me how to be more independent, so I pay my phone bill and I also get to buy video games. I just like that you can come here - it's a second home for me."
That home-away-from-home sentiment is shared by Hemming, who says he started the program even before his mother knew about it.
Victory Project really is like a second family for me for me. It's somewhere you can come to either chill get your schoolwork done. You can basically be yourself here, like be a normal human and respect the Kingdom," he says. "We follow God's rules and what a gift for me it is, like, it's a cool place to just hang out. I think it's pretty cool."
Hemming says it's a condition, set by his mom, that he gets his homework done before he can join activities at the VP center on Troy St.
Of course, there is plenty of room for doing homework at the center, which features, not only dedicated educational and meeting spaces, but a large kitchen that can handle the evening food prep for as many as thirty-five current VP members.
There's a large recreational room with a pool table, foosball table and "chill space" for reading or listening to music. The rec-room walls are adorned with wild and colorful graffiti - the black and yellow Project Victory logo displayed in one corner.
Beyond the rec-room is an area filled with lockers, weight benches and other sports equipment. There's also a basketball court where, on the day of our visit, a dozen or so boys were playing spirited game.
Dylan Pohl is currently the interim executive director for Victory Project. His involvement in the program began after enrolling in graduate school when a friend, and VP employee, told him he needed to visit the organization.
"I was working at a bank but also part time at a youth shelter in southern Indiana and my heart broke for some of those kids. There is a big lack of opportunity for them. I saw the potential in the world for them but there were lots of obstacles in their way," he says. "I visited for a couple days. I fell in love with it and was honestly amazed with what has been put together here in this organization. And so, I was blessed with the opportunity to be a part of the team and have enjoyed it ever since."
Access to the VP facility, and clubhouse features it offers its young members, does have requirements, Pohl says.
"These guys have to earn eligibility each week to work and so that has to do with their academics, has to do with their time spent here, and just with their behavior and interacting with peers and everything. And so, it's high expectations but the guys meet those expectations very regularly."
Victory Project leaders essentially use a Three Strike Rule to monitor the boy’s eligibility but Pohl says that if a student is asked to leave the program, they can apply for reentry within a few months.
"If they seem to be having a consistent struggle, you know, we're here to partner with parents and with teachers, and so, we want to be a resource to both of them to really create great opportunities for these guys. A big part of what we do is love and accountability."
Love and accountability are the cornerstone of the Victory Project's program, which is meant to build character, say Founder Monnie Bush and says it's a reflection one of his favorite quotes from Booker T. Washington:
"Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him."
A note from Victory Project:
The Victory Project will hold their "BEATING THE ODDS" fundraising breakfast on Wednesday, October 16, 2019, from 8:00am to 9:15am (Doors open at 7:30am) at the Sinclair Ponitz Conference Center - First Floor North Atrium on 444 W. Third Street Dayton, OH 45402. There, you can hear inspiring stories about the young men of VP, and how you can directly impact the lives of Dayton's youth.