Teen Leadership Corps students make a difference at Oliver Hazard Perry Elementary School

The Oliver Hazard Perry (O.H. Perry) students could barely contain their excitement when they arrived at VASJ for their special Thanksgiving celebration with the Teen Leadership Corps.

When their teacher asked the kindergarten students to find their buddies, they ran to the VASJ students and immediately gave them hugs.

Diamond Wilson '15 hugs her Oliver H. Perry buddies.

This seemingly small gesture made a very big statement about how meaningful the partnership between VASJ and O.H. Perry is for everyone involved.

Twice a month the VASJ Teen Leadership Corps (TLC) travels to OH Perry to mentor and develop relationships with the kindergarten and first grade students there. Each VASJ student is paired up with an O.H. Perry buddy and meets with the same student each visit.

Elaine Solomon, longtime teacher of the kindergarten and first-grade class at O.H. Perry, is excited about this relationship.

“It has been really great,” Solomon says. “Seeing the kids get excited about someone coming to see them and showing them compassion – it’s given them a lot.”

The VASJ students are enjoying the experience as well.

“I feel like we are their big brothers and sisters and they look up to us,” says Diamond Wilson ’15. “We are role models so when they see us doing something right, they do it, too.”

In just three months since the partnership started, the VASJ students are already starting to feel like they are having an impact on the lives of their O.H. Perry buddies.

“They really look up to us,” says Regan Roberts ’15. “I feel like we’re really making a difference here.”

That was the goal when VASJ Campus Minister and Teen Leadership Corps instructor Jill Latkovich decided to partner with O.H. Perry as a class initiative.

“It is so nice to start this mentoring program,” says Latkovich. “Our kids felt we could really make a difference here and it is educating them about the needs around them.“

This is the first year for VASJ’s Teen Leadership Corps but the program has been operating in other schools since it was founded in 2008 by Executive Director Mary Ann Creamer.

VASJ is the only school in Cleveland with a Teen Leadership Corps and is one of 19 schools total.

Members of VASJ's Teen Leadership Corps with TLC Executive Director Mary Ann Creamer.

Creamer was able to visit VASJ and observe the TLC students interacting with the O.H. Perry students.

“This is my favorite part of my job,” says Creamer. “Going into schools and seeing these kids make a difference is wonderful.”

Founded in 2008, TLC is a student-led program teaching the importance of service-leadership. The Teen Leadership Corps program empowers teens to work together to address common concerns of their peers, schools, and communities in which they live.

There are a total of 14 students in VASJ’s TLC – all juniors and seniors. In addition to the mentorship with O.H. Perry, the TLC students have also hosted luncheons for VASJ’s transfer students, collected winter items for The Boys and Girls Club, and is currently collecting unwrapped Christmas gifts for Toys-for-Tots.

The TLC program at VASJ has been a wonderful addition to the curriculum. More than just teaching the students how to start initiatives and take on leadership roles, they are learning that even the smallest of gestures like reading a book or coloring with a student can have a big impact and make a difference in the lives of others.

“You can make a difference with the smallest thing you do, just by being there,” says Cha’Ves Windham ’15.

When one of the O.H. Perry students was asked why she enjoys visits from her VASJ buddy, Diamond Wilson, her response was simple.

“She does nice things for me.”

Daesha Cook and her buddy from Oliver H. Perry elementary school
draw a Thanksgiving picture.