The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Local nonprofit Champions of Hope looks to make lasting impact in South Dallas

When mentoring children comes to mind, one would imagine an academically based program. Champions of Hope, however, has a more personal approach.

The program for children from fourth grade through high school is based in South Dallas, an impoverished area of the city. It currently consists of 125 mentors paired with a single student with the intention of building a close relationship.

SMU graduate Adam Berry began mentoring with Champions of Hope last summer. He was paired with 10-year-old Elijah, whom he sees weekly.

“My goal, and hopefully my impact is that he understands his potential and does not sell himself short of his capabilities because of the influences of his surroundings,” Berry said of his mentee.

Berry’s mentorship with Elijah involves spending time with him by playing basketball together, going to dinner, helping with homework and just hanging out. “Our relationship is more of a friendship than one might imagine possible between a 26-year-old and a 10-year-old,” Berry said.

What distinguishes Champions of Hope from other mentorship programs is the faith-based approach to positively influencing the youth. It is a nonprofit Christian organization that is funded completely by donations. Its ultimate goal is changing the community through caring for the children and their families.

Champions of Hope was founded in August of 2008 by Carly Pickens, who was the sole worker for nearly two years. She found a church in South Dallas that was willing to lend her an office, but the work through Champions of Hope is done in the community on an individual level. The mentors are responsible for communicating with the families they are assigned to and setting up their own activities to do with their mentees.

Because of growth and the need for more employees and office space, Champions of Hope was recently able to rent space in an old community center. Pickens was excited to say that she and her three employees will move into the space as soon as they put in the carpet.

Executive Director Pickens had a vision for the program that she sees being fulfilled by her volunteers. “Yes, you should care about your child’s grades, but we aren’t a tutoring program,” Pickens said when describing the role of her mentors. Pickens’ idea of mentorship through her organization is providing a role model and source of encouragement for each child.

Pickens believes that a change in a community requires a strong commitment to the people, which is why she and her employees have all moved to South Dallas. Her desire is to relationally connect with the families to influence a change in attitude, and her mission started with the future leaders of the area.

When asked if she feels that she is in danger by living in an area with such a high crime rate, Pickens said she and her employees “walk in wisdom, but we don’t walk in fear.” She explained that most of the crime that occurs in her area is either domestic or drug-related, so it is unlikely that she would be the victim of a random crime.

Because the first generation of mentees has not reached adulthood yet, the staff at Champions of Hope realizes that it may take years to see a significant change in the outlook of the community. They begin pairing mentors with fourth graders at J.J. Rhoads Learning Center and Charles Rice Learning Center, so their oldest kids are just now entering high school. For the time being, the employees and volunteers are thankful for being embraced by not only the children, but also the families in the area.

Pickens said she began her nonprofit with the understanding that having a true impact would take a long time, especially when the relationships are crossing socioeconomic, racial and cultural barriers.

“What I see in the community is really just the beginning of something,” Pickens said. “I’m five years into this, but we’re just laying the foundation.” 

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