‘Feel Good’ tidings for Suffolk youth

Published 9:38 pm Thursday, December 26, 2019

Twins Alvin and Calvin Almond have returned to their hometown of Suffolk to mentor and counsel children in need — the vision of their own godfather, the late, great James Brown, and their Youth of America Foundation.

On Christmas Eve this week, the team at Youth of America Suffolk held its inaugural “I Feel Good” Christmas party, with a list of more than 100 children in the Suffolk community to receive giftwrapped toys, thanks to help from community partners.

Many children received presents at the outreach center at 107 S. Division St., beside the Family Dollar on East Washington Street. In addition to these 100 toy gifts, parents were also given 100 food boxes for their holiday meals.

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“The night went very well,” Calvin Almond said. “We were overwhelmed from the support of the community.”

These Suffolk families also enjoyed fried fish that was cooked at the party, with plenty of side dishes to choose from, all at no cost. Delicious smells were in the air as parents watched their children bounce up and down in an inflatable bounce and enjoy cotton candy as the DJ played Christmas songs.

The youngsters cheered for Santa as he arrived with Mrs. Claus in a Youth of America van that was chock-full of presents. They all smiled as their parents got pictures of these holiday memories.

“It’s a nice time,” said Suffolk resident Keshaunda Williams, who was there with two of her children, “having fun with other people, family and friends in the community,” she said.

Ratisha Brown, another Suffolk parent, brought her children Deziayah, 6, and Zyriah, 2, to the Youth of America Suffolk Christmas party. She said it was a “blessing” for children on Christmas Eve.

“It was a big help to the Suffolk youth,” Brown said, “to bring the kids out for gifts, food, meeting Santa and Mrs. Claus. It was just a blessing.”

The Almond brothers thanked Delegate-elect Clinton Jenkins for coming out to support the event, and for the work of Youth of America Suffolk Director Victory Hardy, along with other dedicated staff members. The event was also made possible with support from Pizza Hut, the East Washington Street Family Dollar store, DAB Transportation Services and Jones Family Realtor.

“We are also looking for more sponsors, more organizations, and more companies to be involved,” Alvin Almond said. “We plan to do great things on the east side of Suffolk.”

The Youth of America Foundation was co-founded by the Almond brothers with help from James Brown in 2001, they said. The foundation provides mentoring, counseling and meals to thousands of kids through the food program in California, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia cities.

The Almond brothers began renovations on the Youth of America Outreach Center building at 107 S. Division St. in August, and are expected to open the building formally in the early spring after zoning and regulations are met, while the center continues outreach activities in the meantime.

The brothers said they grew up in Suffolk, when East Washington Street was known as “Norfolk Road.” It was important for them to come home to Norfolk Road, they said, and their mentor saw their passion to do this.

“This is a James Brown vision. He helped us create the nonprofit in 2001 in California, and we’re bringing the Youth of America back to our hometown, as per his request,” Alvin said.

“(James Brown) wanted us to provide a local safe haven for kids in the community,” Calvin added. “When we were traveling with him, he always felt our passion for our hometown. He saw the need for us to come back home to do something here. He said that ‘success always starts at home,’ and he saw that we had a desire for Norfolk Road.”

Youth of America Suffolk has plans to begin a food program in the weeks to come, along with further outreach activities. The focus of this mentoring, according to Alvin, is “education.”

“Education is the main focus our mentorship. Without education, the kids’ success rate is diminished,” he said. “James Brown always told us to educate a child — to teach a child — is a primary role of adults. He was our mentor from the early age of 8 years onward. To meet him and become his godsons was absolutely a dream come true.

“His vision for us transformed our lives as youth mentors. Our passion for youths’ success plays a vital role in our mission for Suffolk, Virginia. Our drive is endless, and our mission will be accomplished.”

Their mission is help children in Suffolk — the “real hometown heroes,” as Calvin called them — and encourage them to “think big,” as Alvin described their approach.

“We want to encourage these young people to think big. We want to encourage these kids to dream big, and to do their best in school,” Alvin said. “We have a lot of activities coming in 2020. It’s going to be a great year for Youth of America.”