Rather than making a small donation toward a local youth organization’s trip to Washington, Belk, Inc. has funded the entire trip.
Urban Achievements for Youth Education (UAYE) will take local youth on a trip to participate in the second-annual Youth Peace March in Washington. The march is held on Capitol Hill to promote peace and unity among youth and bring awareness to issues involving bullying, violence and a lack of self-esteem.
The trip is scheduled for July 12-15, and in addition to participating in the Youth Peace March, group members will also tour the White House, the Pentagon and the Martin Luther King National Memorial.
UAYE took a total of 12 youth on the trip last year, but the group has grown as a result of staying active throughout the year and membership has more than doubled as there are currently 30 youth participants.
“Education is what UAYE is all about,” said UAYE Public Relations Liaison Robert Hill. “How much more educational can you get than seeing how our nation is run?”
Hill said group members who participated last year were disappointed to learn that White House tours had to be scheduled 90 days in advance, and they were not able to tour the home of the president. He said all participants are excited to know they will get to take the tour this year.
Hill said students involved were given sponsorship letters to give to church and family members who may be interested in making a donation toward the cost of the trip. Two of the students — Diaundrea and Melanie Thomas — gave a letter to their father, Melvin Thomas.
Melvin Thomas was a supervisor at the former Disney distribution center for 13 years, and was re-hired as a production supervisor at the new Belk eCommerce distribution and fulfillment center.
“I was one of the last to leave Disney and one of the first supervisors hired with Belk,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he became aware that The Belk Foundation makes contributions to various community organizations, and he automatically thought of UAYE. Thomas found out about UAYE through Robert Hill, who is a fellow Jonesville native.
Not only did Thomas’ daughters become involved with UAYE this year, but his wife — Aldonza Thomas — is a teacher at Sims Middle School and has worked with UAYE by tutoring students.
“The teachers involved help the kids improve their test scores and prepare for the SATs, as well as find out how to get financial aid,” Melvin said.
Thomas alerted The Belk Foundation regarding UAYE and the trip to Washington.
“He told them there are about 30 kids going and the cost of the trip was $150 per student,” Hill said. “That equals $4,500, so Belk gave us a $5,000 donation.”
Hill said the group is extremely thankful for Belk, as well as everyone who has supported UAYE so far.
Belk Vice President of Supply Chain Debbie Fortnum said that Belk has several overarching initiatives for such contributions, and the perspective of UAYE in the way of education closely aligns with that of Belk.
“We are certainly excited to be a part of the community and to be in a position to help an organization such as UAYE,” Fortnum said.
Thomas said he is pleased with the gesture on the part of his new employer.
“I worked with Disney for 13 years, and in 13 years, I never knew of them to give back quite like that,” he said. “I am glad to be a part of the new Belk family.”
Thomas said his dedication to UAYE does not stop there, as he will continue to help the organization and the students involved. He plans to help with their search for a building in which to hold an after-school program, allowing students to work with computers, study and complete homework assignments.