Darrell Thompson is President of Bolder Options in Minneapolis, focusing on healthy youth development. Its comprehensive mentoring program, wellness activities, and leadership opportunities coordinate family, community, school, and county resources in a united effort to support youth who are at-risk for dropping out of school or becoming involved in delinquent or unhealthy behaviors.
Q: Why is your work important?
A: Bolder Options fulfills a unique niche in youth services. Our core program gives 10- to 14-year-old youth positive relationships with caring adults, and access to healthy activities that support their growth at a crucial time when good choices matter. Bolder Options kids participate in a variety of community events (sporting events, races, talks, camps, etc.) that model healthy fun. Their mentors, tutors, and coaches help them understand how and why to live a healthy lifestyle. We build a template for a healthy, active lifestyle for the kids to follow — we motivate, inspire, and push kids outside their comfort zone, eventually helping them understand their own potential. What’s especially important about this work is that the impact is felt far beyond the children and adults that work with them — the lessons we teach impact the families and communities that the kids live in.
Q: What is your biggest accomplishment?
A: Each Bolder Options youth has a “biggest accomplishment” — whether it’s running their first 5K, learning to cook a delicious and healthy dinner for their family, or getting their first A in school. As an organization, we’re proud of each of these accomplishments. We’ll be 20 years old in 2014. In those 20 years, we’ve increased the number of youth served from six in 1994 to 1,400 in 2013. We’ve expanded our programming to serve Minneapolis, St. Paul and Rochester. We were named one of the best charities in the nation by the Today Show in 2006, and were recently included in the Top 20 list of nonprofits serving at-risk kids in Minnesota. We’ve had consistent, quality programming and leadership as we’ve grown. Bolder Options kids come back to us and let us know what an impact we had on their lives. That’s something to celebrate.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
A: Finding enough volunteers to work with all the kids who want to be part of Bolder Options, especially volunteers who reflect the population of kids we serve. Raising enough money to provide quality youth programming is a challenge for any nonprofit. Tracking kids’ long-term outcomes, especially with a transient population.
Q: How can people get involved?
A: Make an end-of-year gift and invest in Bolder Options annually. Take time to learn about Bolder Options and spread the word about our remarkable organization. We currently have the greatest need for volunteer mentors. Mentors (age 21+) sign up to meet with their mentee 2-4 hours a week for one year. We also need volunteer tutors in our Minneapolis location, and one-time volunteers to help with events. See bolderoptions.org/current-volunteer-opportunities. □