MILWAUKEE -- Running Rebels has been mentoring Milwaukee's youth for 40 years with the mission to prevent them from going down the wrong path, getting involved with gangs, or entangled in the criminal justice system.
"That's our goal, to take them where they're at and for them to know that you have a network, you have people that care about you, that support you. And really bring back to life that village concept," said co-executive director of Running Rebels Dawn Barnett.
Dawn's husband Victor Barnett started the organization when he was just 19, bringing young people out to the basketball court to engage them and keep them busy. But that mission quickly grew.
In the last four decades, thousands of Milwaukeeans have been touched by the organization, including those of mentor Whitney Bingham and mentee Golden Brown.
Bingham and Brown said they were automatically drawn to each other because they are both artistic and like to practice mindfulness exercises. The duo often work on art projects together.
While Running Rebels provides a space for mentors and mentees to just hang out or be creative, they also provide work on building life skills and preparing to transition into adulthood.
"Something that I really love about Ms. Whitney is she always tries to help me achieve and fulfill my goals," Brown said.
Brown said she also benefits from the tutoring program which gives her a space to focus on her school work, which is especially helpful right now since many schools are still virtual.
For Bingham, helping her mentees accomplish what they set their minds to and try new things is what she loves about being a Running Rebels Mentor.
"I love the opportunities that we get to create with the young people. There's so many different things we get to try out," said Bingham.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges for many, especially young people. The relationships and support network Running Rebels provides has been even more crucial during this time to make sure youth in the community are supported.
"Especially with everything hectic out there, it's great to know that i just have someone to talk to if I need to, and just someone that I can always rely on," Brown said.
Brown and Bingham are just one example of the many relationships Running Rebels has cultivated over the last 40 years. Dawn Barnett said thousands of young people and mentors have walked through the doors at one of the organization's two locations.
Barnett said it's hard to quantify the impact the organization has had on the greater Milwaukee community. Much of the work done at Running Rebels has a long-term impact and isn't always immediate. But, she said that she knows the relationships formed between mentor and mentee have prevented many situations from turning bad.
"There have been some times, really tense times in some situations that were de-escalated that could have led to extreme violence in this city," Barnett said.
Now, with 40 years of mentoring Milwaukee's youth, Running Rebels' story is just beginning. Barnett said what's possible in the next 40 years will have an even bigger impact on the city, and part of that is teaming up with other organizations.
"Whether it's housing needs, whether it's basic needs such as food. There are a lot of other entities that if we continue to come together and really figure out how to work efficiently, we can make the greatest impact and really start to see a change in Milwaukee," Barnett said.
And although it may take time to see those changes, Barnett said she knows that planting the seeds now means the next generation is well on its way to blossoming into future leaders.
If you want to be a part of that impact and change, you can learn more about getting involved with Running Rebels by clicking here.