YOUNG BLACK ENTREPRENEUR MAGAZINE
THE SPRING FORWARD ISSUE
Helping Empower Youth (HEY!), an Atlanta-based non-profit organization, is dedicated to mobilizing the youth to positively engage with their community and the world. Co-founder and executive director of HEY!, KaCey Venning, founded the non-profit organization in April 2011. Since then, she has propelled the organization to empower numerous young people of Atlanta while being a servant leader who gives young people a safe space to be heard, understood, and valued.
Venning has helped connect thousands of youth in the metro-Atlanta area with HEY!, which has proved to be necessary for these communities. HEY! provides programs that include their STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) related after school programs and their bicycle programs.
Another central part of HEY! is their popular semi-annual book fair, which has gathered nearly 2,000 attendees. The fair has helped to provide exposure to authors and illustrators of color by giving away hundreds of books to the youth. Venning noticed that national book organizations commonly went to private schools in metro-Atlanta to distribute books, and the Atlanta Public School students were overlooked.
"We began to host our own book fairs with a spring and fall edition. We featured black and brown authors, illustrators, and publishers who wrote books that primarily featured black and brown children as the main characters," said Venning. "Our book fairs have allowed families of all colors to add to their personal libraries. This helped young children of color see themselves reflected on the pages of numerous books. The fairs have also given black and brown authors, who were underrepresented in publishing deals, an opportunity to get their books in front of more people."
Venning is not only a voice for the people but is taking action to help mentor and provide resources for the underserved youth. For example, HEY! is one of the very few organizations speaking about a trending topic in the City of Atlanta, the 'water boys,' which are groups of black and brown young men selling water on busy intersections throughout Atlanta. Most of these young men come from poverty-stricken backgrounds and have very few resources available to them. However, their entrepreneurial spirit has not gone unnoticed. Venning's significant addition to her company is helping the 'water boys' leave the streets and find adequate jobs.
"I have a couple of young men who ask me daily, 'Ms. KaCey can you help me find a job?' The link on the [HEY!] website, 'Hire the Atlanta Water Boyz!' was a quick solution for us where people of the community had random jobs for the 'water boys' like cutting grass and moving
furniture that took them away from the corner and gave them some money," said Venning. "We are trying to eliminate the number of young men who are out on the streets and also show them that there are other ways to earn money that will keep them safe and help them to earn skills."
Jobs are scarce for the youth amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Venning continues to support the youth in every way possible. She even started a print shop to generate funds for the organization and gives the 'water boys' another opportunity to earn a living, keep them off the streets, and give them a community of mentors and adult supervision.
HEY! is creating youth leaders while giving them a space to grow and serve others through their work. Many Atlanteans embrace HEY! while applauding their effort of helping youth across the City. Most recently, HEY! is the first non-profit in more than 25 years where the Atlanta City Council overwhelmingly supported an organization with their contingency funds.
"For [HEY!] it's about giving the youth the tools to make sure that they not only have ways to care for themselves but where they can also generate other employment and business opportunities for the next generation," said Venning. "In five to ten years, we don't want to be an organization that just talks about empowering young people, but also give them the opportunities to do it for themselves from start to finish.”