This column in Attraction, by Amelia Blades Steward, visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore or are one of the organizations giving back in unique ways to better our world. She has been a freelance writer in our community for over 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.
When Lucas Thorpe and Khail Johnson from different high schools met as teenagers playing football and through an organization called Young Life, neither could have imagined they would be making a difference in the lives of adolescents and youth adults in the Cambridge community. Their new nonprofit, ALL4LOVE, which is celebrating its one-year anniversary, has a mission to provide transformative and holistically developed opportunities for youth that uniquely fits its community in Cambridge. The nonprofit’s vision is to create a safe place for the community to gather and be proactive in their own individual journeys to success.
Still young, Lucas is 22 years old, and Khail is 23 years old, the pair started mentoring four or five high school boys at Cambridge South Dorchester High School a few years ago on their own time while working at their full-time jobs. Lucas was working at the Dorchester County YMCA and Khail was working in Dorchester County Public Schools and with Dorchester County Young Life.
“We were hanging out, going out to dinner and lunch with the boys, and going to their sports games. We were doing this out of our own pockets, and it was getting harder and harder to keep it up. One day, we had a mom approach us while we were watching a baseball game about how she could get her son signed up for our big brother program. We looked at each other and asked ourselves ‘What Big Brother program?’” states Lucas, Co-Founder and Executive Director of ALL4LOVE.
“We love the community, and we love those kids, so we knew we had to start something officially. We met with Derick and Dina Daly who founded Building African American Minds (BAAM) in Easton. They helped mentor us to establish the nonprofit organization last summer. We then found funding for the program, we both changed our life plans, and left our full-time jobs to just dive into this organization.”
“We went from five boys to 20 boys this past year. We now have nine seniors, 11 juniors, 10 sophomores, and 10 freshmen for a total of 40 boys at Cambridge South Dorchester High School for the coming year. We are serving all four grade levels, tapping in on different challenges and obstacles that they’re facing,” adds Khail, Co-Founder and Program Director of ALL4LOVE.
“We are working with the boys around the clock during the school year, exposing them to different opportunities for them to grow their character and to grow their resume. We have a biweekly in-school program during their lunch break for about an hour, so they don’t miss any instructional time. We bring them a special lunch from either Chick-fil-A, Domino’s, McDonald’s, or Taco Bell and then we begin our program for the day,” comments Lucas.
The program follows a curriculum, “Growing Leaders,” which focuses on social and emotional learning and creating habit-forming attitudes. Topics define the disposition and character of leadership. Although they follow the curriculum every day, they can also add relevant topics that are on the boys’ minds related to current events or issues they are dealing with. One of the core values of the program is excellence and not perfection.
Over the summer, the program takes a break and partners with Dorchester County Young Life, which both men were involved with when they were youths. By offering scholarships to the Young Life Summer Camp, the boys get to experience such activities as ziplining, high ropes courses, and horseback riding – things many have never done before. The summer camp is less of instructional learning and more of experiential learning.
“A lot of our kids haven’t traveled. One of our boys was so excited to get to ride for his first time on a charter bus. It’s going to be a memory that lasts forever for him,” shares Lucas.
The responses to the program have been overwhelmingly positive among our students. It’s really about the relationships we have built with these boys. I’m okay with saying that we are friends with our students. Because there are a lot of times when some of our students don’t have very many friends or the friends that they are hanging out with are not positive. So, we can be friends and we can be positive friends.”
The two men grew up in totally different surroundings. Lucas grew up on a farm and Khail grew up in Cambridge. Both noticed things among their friends that made them want to help.
“One of the first boys we first helped was a 15-year-old who was cooking dinner and cleaning his house and taking care of his two younger siblings because his mom had to work to provide for the family. Kids like these are growing up so fast. We wanted to try and be a support and make a difference,” states Lucas.
“For me, it was noticing kids from broken homes and homes with substance abuse. Kids in these homes are so defeated and have no hope. I realized they need that extra love to get them to that next step,” adds Khail. “God put the right people in my life to use my testimony, my story to help these kids. They knew me because we grew up in the same area and they could look up to me.”
“Khail’s nickname from high school has been Moses. And if we think about the biblical story of Moses, it was Moses leading people from one area to another and I think that that speaks so true to Khail’s character. That’s truly what we’re doing. We’re leading people to a new life. Our new motto for our organization is ‘Serve people, Shape culture.’ We are changing the narrative. A lot of times Cambridge gets a really bad rap and there’s a lot of bad stuff that happens in Cambridge. But oftentimes, a lot of our boys feel like just because they come from this certain unique community, doesn’t mean it’s their narrative. We are dealing with one kid at a time to change that narrative,” adds Lucas.
“I think that misconception of ALL4LOVE is that we are just the mentoring program, which we’re not. That’s only a piece of our organization. The number four in our logo and our name represents our four primary areas of focus – mentorship, academics, athletics, and community engagement. Our primary focus is the city of Cambridge, but our reach is still all of Dorchester County,” Lucas shares.
Under academics, the organization has a goal to launch a charter school 10 years down the road. Under community engagement, ALL4LOVE hosted a community kickball event to bring the community together. This fall, the organization may host a Fall Fest event. Under athletics, in the spring, they hope to offer a youth league football program for elementary and middle school-aged students.
They have started the program with high school-aged students because there is a lack of high school programming in the City of Cambridge. ALL4LOVE also has a small outreach program for elementary students at Choptank Elementary. This year, they are going to create a breakfast club-type event where they bring some high school seniors over once or twice a month to have breakfast with a few fifth graders. They would like to eventually offer programming for fourth and fifth graders through middle school.
“As we see our first group of seniors graduate, we also want to establish a way to keep them connected to resources to make it through the years of higher education, the military, or the workforce. We want our students to be successful and eventually come back and take our jobs. And that’s going to be how we see change – telling them that when they’re ready to come back to the community, come back and invest in programs like this to invest in someone’s life. And that’s where we’re going to see generational change,” Lucas adds.