BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — A group of students from the Y.A.L.E Academy is using their summer break to clean up the City of Buffalo while learning valuable life and leadership skills.
One student says it's all about pushing for success.
"I feel good being in this academy and doing good for the community," says 14-year-old Dimitrius Willson. "And making everybody feel good on a day by cleaning up and stuff."
The students are learning from a Buffalo Native, Leanthony Freeman, who created the academy almost five years ago.
"Believe it or not, I found the name while lying in jail in Miami. I went to school in Miami, and I ended up in some trouble down there," says Freeman. "I was laying in the top bunk, and Yale came out of my mind, so I put the acronym together. Youth, Acquiring, Leadership, Excellence."
He says no students are turned away, and the program is designed to give kids stability and strong role models, something he says he missed out on when he was younger.
"If I had the proper leadership and mentorship, I might have not made so many poor decisions," he says. "So understanding that our community here at home, Buffalo, NY, as well as at large our students need that."
Freeman founded the academy in Atlanta in 2016, then expanded it to Buffalo.
Others say initiatives like these are pushing young people towards a brighter future.
"It's a very important thing to be out here during our Clean Sweep and to have Y.A.L.E Academy be part of that," the Director of Citizens Services of the City of Buffalo, Oswaldo Mestre. "As a director, I don't think I'll be around forever so we have to train the young people for positions that I have and other public service positions."
Students learn several developmental leadership skills through simple tasks like cleaning up the trash while building those communication skills.
"This program is teaching us things that we need to have to go on and have a good career and be successful in life," says 16-year-old student Amiyah Smith.
Freeman hopes others will see the work being done by Y.A.L.E Academy students and be inspired to create positive change in their communities.