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Volume 12, No. 2 Fall 2009
Odds Stacked Against Them, Boys In New Orleans Get Fighting Chance
Kirk Stevens (above, left) left a career in accounting to answer the call of “black men helping young boys.” Today, he is the Academic Director at Desire Street Ministries helping young boys who typically fall through the cracks in New Orleans’ public school system. (Photo credit: IOCC Baltimore)
New Orleans — Kirk Stevens uses everything he has – even the homemade tattoos on his arms – to gain credibility with his kindergarten to 12th grade students. Stevens is the Academic Director of the afterschool program at Desire Street Ministries, a school and community outreach program founded in 1995 to help boys who typically fall through the cracks of the public school system in New Orleans’ Upper Ninth Ward. “They’re so streetwise, they have this attitude of ‘if you haven’t been there, then I don’t want to hear about it,’” said Stevens.

Stevens has been there. The 59-year-old former accounting assistant who left his career to answer the call of “black men helping young boys,” was raised by a single mother in the notorious Desire housing project during the 1950s and 60s. The project housed 14,000 individuals and was so infested with drugs, gangs, and crime that “you thought twice about venturing across the street to the supermarket,” recalled Stevens.

Hurricane Katrina devastated Desire Street in 2005 along with the rest of the Upper Ninth Ward, which was sandwiched in between the two major levees that collapsed. The neighborhood is slowly coming back with small convenience stores, some new brightly painted churches, and the occasional repaired home interrupting rows and rows of rotting, deserted houses.

Josh is a graduate of Desire Street and is studying social work at Louisiana State University. He volunteers at Desire Street’s summer program, helping young boys who use Desire Street to escape the temptations of the street. (Photo credit: IOCC Baltimore)

Desire Street Ministries sits at the end of Luisa Street in a nondescript building with a large gymnasium. The mission is to transform the community by training young black males to be leaders. IOCC recently provided $1 million worth of books and audio/visual equipment for their new library, the only one in the neighborhood. While funding for the storm-battered Gulf Coast has tended to focus on emergency relief, IOCC is also supporting key local partners like Desire Street who focus on education and community development. A typical Desire student is being raised by a single mother who is looking for a safe place for her sons while she is at work.

About 60% are living with a relative because one or both parents are incarcerated or struggling with a drug addiction. There are some extreme cases of boys raising themselves. For many, Desire Street is a refuge, a chance to get the positive affirmation they lack at home and to escape the temptations of the street.

Stevens says that getting to these boys early is the key, which is why the afterschool program is so vital. “We have kids in this area with the same abilities, capabilities, and dreams as any kid in the suburbs. It’s just like a plant – if it doesn’t get the proper sunlight and watering, it won’t last very long,” he says.

Desire Street’s goal is to have 350 students in a full day school. Like other schools in New Orleans, whose public system is ranked among the lowest in the nation, Desire Street needs more support, more volunteers, more books, and more men like Mr. Stevens. The list is long, but so is the number of boys waiting to get in.


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In This Issue

Outreach in the U.S. – IOCC Helps Single Working Moms Realize Dream of Homeownership

Message from the Executive Director

Odds Stacked Against Them, Boys In New Orleans Get Fighting Chance

Orthodox Clinic Meets Zimbabweans’ Health Needs

After War in Georgia, A Retiree Struggles to Rebuild His Life

IOCC Assists Alabama’s Battered Women

IOCC Volunteer Highlight: Nick Terezis

IOCC Foundation

Help Others Live While You Earn a Living

Become an IOCC Parish Representative

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