As a teenage mother many years ago, Venessa Caesar said she felt rejected, abandoned and hopeless. Now, as one of her sons prepares to graduate from college, she wants to give back to her community and bring hope to the children of Wilmington.
Caesar is the founder and executive director of Soaring as Eagles Outreach Ministry, and her organization is adding a new program to give Wilmington middle school students a chance to learn about different career opportunities they could pursue during high school and potentially academic. She also wants to give them mentors and supports to help them along the way.
“Since there is a lot of violence in our youth, we want to promote opportunities that will inspire students to have a better life,” Caesar said.
The program, called Inspired Minds, will expose students to different pursuits and careers in what it calls STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. The program will start with 15 or 20 students primarily at Williston and Holly Shelter Middle Schools, but Caesar said she hopes to expand to 30 students.
Inspired Minds isn’t just an effort of Caesar and Soaring as Eagles staff and volunteers – it’s also a community-wide program that connects students with professionals in a wide variety of careers. From exposure to forensics with the Wilmington Police Department to financial literacy classes from staff at Live Oak Bank, students will have the chance to learn about different careers they could pursue after graduation, or through in vocational and technical training courses in high school.
Additionally, mentors will take students fishing and hiking and excursions to different college campuses. They will also learn a range of topics such as coding, robotics, music creation and business development.
“I’m so grateful,” Caesar said. “When the community comes together for a common goal, it gives hope.”
Caesar said she hopes the program will provide support and structure for sixth- and seventh-grade students who need it. Inspired Minds includes an application process and each student must obtain two references from family members, school staff and community members. She said the goal is to reach students who need additional guidance.
Soaring as Eagles is working in other ways to expand support for families at Title I schools in Wilmington, including its Saturday Academy program, which offers math and reading lessons to students in grades three through five at Freeman Elementary. and students at Williston Middle School. This program will take place on the first and third Saturdays of each month, from January to May 2023, with a free hot breakfast for students.
Soaring as Eagles also offers programs to help prepare children for kindergarten and kindergarten, parent empowerment sessions, classes for fathers and sons or mothers and daughters to bond and grow, and more.
For Caesar, the community-wide effort to support Soaring as Eagles and the children involved in its programs gives him hope that the kindness, responsibility and opportunity they promote will reach and inspire an underserved population.
“It not only gives me hope that there’s someone out there who has love in their heart, but it shows the kids,” she said. “(When kids) watch adults bicker and argue, it’s not very helpful at all.”
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