At-Risk Youth Advocate Promotes Involvement

Joanne Patterson, left, United Way of Central Alabama Young Professional Society relationship manager, and Elizabeth Ragland, United Way of Central Alabama Young Philanthropists Society relationship manager, pose for a picture with Donna Dukes, center, executive director of Maranathan Academy, after her riveting speech at the YPS social hour recently.

The warehouse of a local brewery was the backdrop for United Way of Central Alabama’s Young Philanthropist Society’s social hour with Donna Dukes, executive director of Maranathan Academy. Her academy transforms lives by resuscitating broken hearts and renewing shattered dreams and unfulfilled promises of critically at-risk-youth and adults in and around the city of Birmingham.“My goal is to bring awareness to the plight of critically at-risk youth,” Dukes said, “and give some insight as to what we can do to address the plight and correct the situation so we can see these young people stop becoming statistics and become success stories instead.”

Jemison Jones, co-chairperson of Young Philanthropists Society (YPS), never heard Dukes speak until right before she presented to YPS.

“It’s pretty amazing what she does,” he said. “She’s really giving hope to people who don’t stand a chance in this world.”

Joanne Patterson, United Way YPS relationship manager, heard Dukes at TEDx Birmingham. While Dukes’s Maranathan Academy isn’t a United Way agency, she said her work aligns perfectly with the work of many United Way agencies.

Maranathan Academy is an alternative school for critically at-risk youth and adults that combines required academic courses necessary for the attainment of a high school diploma, with the instillment of lessons on faith, self-esteem, and personal responsibility.

Ann McEwen, co-chairperson of Young Philanthropists Society, stands with Jemison Jones, co-chairperson of YPS, during the YPS social hour recently.

The Young Philanthropists are young professionals who live in Central Alabama and who are creating their legacy through United Way with an annual gift of $1,000 or more. Members of YPS also enjoy invitations to vertical networking events with Tocqueville Society members, company and community recognition and service opportunities. “The YPS is trying to improve our community overall with a long term approach and she’s doing that starting with these critically at-risk-youth 15, 20 years down the road,” said Jones. “This is my home and I’m a father now, but I want to leave my home and my community a better place to my kids on down the road. Dukes finished her talk and proceeded to shake hands and exchange contact information. For her, it was an opportunity to find a connection between successful young professionals and her students who are in a desperate quest for success.

“I often tell individuals when I ask them to come and speak to my students that just taking ten minutes to drop by and say hello to a critically at-risk youth or have lunch with them or play a game of checkers provides the interaction that’s essential for them to reach beyond the boundaries that have been set, largely by their own minds and their own families,” she said.

United Way of Central Alabama Inc. supports health and human service programs and agencies that provide solutions for the most important needs in the community. Its business is to improve lives and community conditions by building and mobilizing resources. To learn more about United Way’s impact in your community  visit