Tiffany Torres has fond memories of visiting her local youth center as a child. "As a little girl, I would always want to be at the youth center," she recalls. "There were so many programs – from sports to Girl Scouts and even cooking classes. It was the only place to go if you didn't want to be out on the streets getting into trouble."
Torres' beloved youth center is in an area of Glendale, Arizona, known as the Heart of Glendale. It's a community fraught with drug dealing, gang violence, underperforming schools and a host of other issues.
While the city-owned center played a vital role in the community, it eventually fell into disuse. That's when a Scottsdale, Arizona, nonprofit stepped in to help return the center to its former glory.
Moving in action
Founded in 1985, Partners in Action (PIA) is a nonprofit that aims to serve poor and displaced people around the world. It currently operates orphanages, missions, and various social programs in 27 countries. The organization's guiding vision is to provide an "umbrella of hope" for those who are most in need.
"Even though we'd never managed an after-school program, we knew that nothing is too big for God, so we took it on."
In 2016, PIA contracted with the city of Glendale to revitalize the center and begin offering programs for youth, along with their parents and siblings. "The city couldn't find a group that would provide free programming for kids," says PIA CEO Jerry Bowman. "Even though we'd never managed an after-school program, we knew that nothing is too big for God, so we took it on. We received a $100,000 grant from the Fiesta Bowl to remodel the center so kids in the area could come for the programs and a chance to get off the streets."
PIA transformed the center, and the impact on local young people has been extraordinary. "We now have 200 kids coming each week," Bowman says. "They can get free food and help with homework, use the new computer lab, do STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] and arts and crafts activities, and participate in a variety of sports." For parents, the center offers financial literacy classes and sports administration certification programs.
For the past four years, Thrivent members have directed Choice Dollars® to the thriving youth center, resulting in nearly $4,000 in outreach funding through the Thrivent Choice® program.
"The funds have allowed us to employ people who grew up in the neighborhood," says Bowman. "By hiring people who actually come from the area they're serving, we hope to encourage a real sense that the community 'owns' the program."
Bowman might have to hire more employees soon – the city of Glendale is eager for PIA to replicate its success. "The city has now asked us to take over the local food kitchen," he says. "They also want us to consider expanding next year to city-owned centers in other neighborhoods."
These days, Tiffany Torres doesn't visit the center – she helps run it. "Being part of the kids' lives is such a privilege," she says. "I love being able to help them build the same wonderful memories of the center that I have."
Generosity takes numerous forms
See how charitable outreach funds from Thrivent Choice can make help make a difference where you live, work and worship.