Sometimes all you need to make the right decisions is encouragement from someone who has seen the consequences of the wrong ones.
That's is what Vaughn and Rose Young are hoping as they mentor youth through the Mother Perry Youth Empowerment Project (MPYEP), which meets once a month to perform lesson-based community service.
"As a father, I decided to never let my children be put in my situation where they didn't have guidance to help him or her make the proper decisions," said Vaughn Young, a father of three and the president of the Mother Perry Foundation and executive director of MPYEP. "I vowed to not only be a parent to my kids, but a father to their friends who didn't have parents."
The program, named after the late "Mother" Annie Mae Perry — matriarch in the Naples community — is for latchkey kids. Young avoids the words "at risk."
"I think all kids are at risk, because they have so many influences — television, Internet, friends whose parents aren't instilling the same values as you are — with idle time," said Young. "Unless you can keep them in front of you 24 hours a day, they're at risk"
A little more than a week ago MPYEP — which has about 40 children between the ages of 10 and 18 — held fashion show at the River Park Community Center with a theme aimed to build the self esteem of the girls in the program. The theme — more than top models, future role models.
During the event, Karen De Santiago, 18, pictured above, took a moment before heading out to the stage. Dressed in clothing provided by Dillards, she strutted down the runway in evening wear, all nervousness dropping away.
The fashion show is De Santiago's first involvement with MPYEP. She found the program through Young's daughter, Artisha. The girls both attend Lorenzo Walker Technical High School studying cosmetology.
De Santiago lives with her 22-year-old sister and has for the past three years. Her mother moved out of state to provide a better life for De Santiago's younger brother who has special needs. De Santiago said her mother gave her the choice to stay in Naples or move with her.
De Santiago chose to stay to continue at her high school where she learns a trade.
"I thought about the future more than the present at that time and I explained that to my mom," said De Santiago, admitting sometimes it is hard without her mom. "She didn't like it, but she supported me."
Although she's new to the project, the Young's have already started talking to her about her future and potential colleges. The doors to her future are open and she's ready for her dreams to work in the fashion industry to be realized, but decisions still need to be made. If she wants, MPYEP is there to help her make them.
"Sometimes it resonates more when it's not your friends or family (giving advice)," De Santiago said. "It sinks in deeper and maybe you'll actually open your eyes and realize you don't have to do anything you don't what to do."