Charles Warner|Daily Times
Lakesha McKissick, director of Impressions Outreach, works on her computer Tuesday morning. Impressions Outreach provides tutoring and mentoring services to at-risk youth.
UNION — The help she received as a teenager and the help she later saw provided other teenagers inspired Lakesha McKissick to establish Impressions Outreach to assist young people in Union County in need of academic tutoring and social counseling.
Established in 2007, Impressions Outreach is located at 309B Hunter St., Union, and, according to its vision statement, is designed to serve at-risk youth and their families, challenging the youth enrolled in the program to “envision and navigate a course for a rewarding future characterized by achievement, independent thought, and social responsibility.”
Impressions Outreach was founded by Lakesha McKissick who said that the breakup of her parents’ marriage lead to her becoming an at-risk youth as a teenager. McKissick said it was her participation in a program that provided her with an outlet to successfully deal with the impact of her parents’ divorce enabled her to get her life back on track. She said it was this and her later experience of helping at-risk youth that lead her to establish Impressions Outreach.
“I set up Impressions Outreach to make a positive impact on the lives of youth based on my experiences growing up,” McKissick said. “I was raised in a middle class home, my parents were married but they divorced right when I was going into high school. Even though I was an honors student I didn’t have an outlet for my emotions and so my grades began to slip.
“What happened was I got involved in ‘Imagine That,’ an improvisational group from Spartanburg where I was provided mentoring, not so much for academics but so I could build my self-esteem. It gave me an outlet for my emotions through acting.”
Through her involvement in Imagine That, McKissick was able to overcome the emotional turmoil she’d experienced as a result of her parents’ divorce and graduate from high school. Her experience inspired her to get involved with an organization that helped troubled youth as she’d been helped.
“Once I graduated I moved to Florida and I began to work with a non-profit called ‘Central CDC of Tampa,’” McKissick said. “They worked with youth giving them jobs and dealing with the academic aspect so they could graduate high school and get jobs.”
This experience, combined with the positive impact she’d experienced as a teenager, lead McKissick to establish Impressions Outreach.
“When I came back to South Carolina I wanted to merge the two ideas together along with my faith,” McKissick said. “My goal was to empower teenagers to enable them and to educate them through education, through learning to express themselves, through communication.”
As Impressions Outreach got underway, McKissick said the focus began to change as she came to understand a major challenge facing so many of the young people who enrolled in the program.
“What I’ve learned from 2007 is that if you fail the ninth grade your chances of graduating from high school decreases by 50 percent,” McKissick said. “So I wanted to give students and parents a support system that could help them with tutoring and bridge that gap so they can complete high school and continue with their education in higher learning.”
To do that, McKissick said when a youth enrolls in the program, a goal plan is developed for them that is followed throughout the school year and reassessed every nine weeks. McKissick said the program follows the student from the ninth grade through the 12th grade. She said that the marks of success are:
• The student continues in school.
• Their grades increase with report cards and interim grades being checked.
• Fewer behavior problems including fewer detentions and suspensions and less tardiness.
• Attitude towards authority (teachers, parents, grandparents) improves.
• Self-esteem and confidence improves.
• The student sets goals and works toward achieving them.
Students participating in the program are required to meet five out of the six marks of success.
McKissick that in the program’s first year, 83 percent of the students participating met the required marks of success. In its second year, 93 percent met the marks of success.
The program involves tutoring by McKissick and volunteers Vania Wimberly, Deidre Jeter, Britny Smith, Deais Neal, and Johnny McKissick. During the summer, McKissick said students are tuored in reading and math and are encouraged to continue reading on their own even though school is out. The tutoring expands during the school year to include the wide range of subjects being taught in school with McKissick bringing in additional volunteer tutors as needed.
In addition to academics, McKissick said the social aspect of growing up is also dealt through mentoring with students divided into groups based on the issues they are dealing with. Those groups are also brought together to collectively talk about and learn how to deal with parents and issues of sex, drugs, peer pressure, and fitting in. When it comes to fitting in, however, McKissick said the message she seeks to convey to the youths is that there is no such thing as fitting in, that they must instead be their own person responsible for their own behavior.
“It’s about accepting yourself because there is no true fitting in,” McKissick said.
While enrolled in the program, the youths go on field trips that McKissick said are designed to help expand their understandings and experiences of the larger world around them. This includes trips to the arts center in Greenville and hiking at Table Rock as well as visits to colleges that they might one day attend. McKissick, who holds an Associate of Art degree from Spartanburg Community College and is currently studying Psychology at USC-Upstate, said she wants to expose the students to as many institutions of higher learning as possible. She said this summer there will be visits to Lander, Limestone, Newberry and Winthrop as well as SCC.
McKissick said that her goal for Impressions Outreach is not only that it help at-risk youth develop into mature, responsible adults, but also that it inspire them to use what they learn to benefit their community.
“I would like to see the youth graduate from high school and get higher education and then bring those skills back to Union County,” McKissick said.
Impressions Outreach is open from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Thursday. During the summer tutoring is from 6-8 p.m. and from 4-8 p.m. during the school year.
For more information on Impressions Outreach call Lakesha McKissick at 864-466-7418.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.