Helping Rochester’s Teens Fight For Their Futures Since 2015


The Problem

Rochester New York

Rochester’s New Normal: Poverty, Trauma & Toxic Role Models

Among comparable-size cities, Rochester continues to be among the worst in poverty and childhood poverty. One out of three Rochester residents lives in poverty, and more than half of all Rochester children under 18 years of age live below the poverty level.

Each second a teen spends in poverty, the probability increases that they will be negatively impacted by one of poverty’s horrific effects:

  • Substandard housing  
  • Food scarcity  
  • Criminal activity  
  • Incarceration of a household member  
  • Living in a single-parent household  
  • Drugs, gangs & violence  
  • Substance abuse by a household member  
  • Physical or sexual abuse by a household member  
  • Psychological abuse or emotional neglect    

The Monroe County Health Department finds that 10 out of 12 teens in the Rochester City School District have experienced one or more traumatic experiences.  Repeated exposure compounds the negative impact, normalizing dysfunction and resulting in a host of destructive behaviors.

Sadly for Rochester’s teen population, poverty and trauma are only two of the three major risk factors they must overcome to succeed. The third is the most personal and crippling—the absence of fathers and positive role models.

Instead of seeing drug and gang leaders as criminals, far too many teens in poverty see them as highly successful, intelligent and relatable ‘parental figures’ who understand teens’ complex needs and are committed to help them attain success. Consistent exposure to destructive influencers is turning teens in poverty into an army of impolite and misguided teens on a direct path to academic and professional failure.

Rochester New York

...But we are fighting back

The Champion Academy helps urban teens in poverty overcome their traumatic experiences and use them as fuel to drive their improvement as students, citizens and future professionals.  

Our Solution

pyramid diagram of the Extreme Mentoring and Empowerment Model

The Extreme mentoring and Empowerment Model

The Champion Academy is a much-needed addition to Rochester’s fight to keep its teens on a path towards positive and productive citizenship. Powered by its Extreme Mentoring & Empowerment Model (EME Model)
Mentors greeting students with high fives

Membership-Based Structure

The EME Model operates in similar fashion. Low-performing teens are invited to become members through recommendation from teachers, school administrators, police officers and community stakeholders who know them best.  In addition to being a full-time student living in poverty in grades 7-12, prospective members must have at least three additional research-based risk factors for dropping out of school:  

  • Failing grade in one or more core subjects  
  • Multiple school suspensions  
  • Low standardized test scores  
  • Lives in single-parent home  
  • School attendance less than 95%  
  • Excessively disruptive in school  
  • Over age for grade level  
  • Lives in extreme poverty  

Membership comes with a host of benefits and each member within the EME Model pays their ‘dues’ by showing discipline, being respectful and giving consistent effort to improve in school, at home and in their community. Violations of the EME Model’s code of conduct are penalized using culturally-appropriate standards of engagement and discipline.

Mentor and mentee

Authentic & Relatable Mentors

While mentorship from any positive role model has benefits, research shows that urban teens in poverty respond best to individuals they admire, respect or relate to. The EME Model understands this reality and creates and intentional ecosystem for members and mentors to thrive.

Throughout the year, the EME Model utilizes four types of mentors within its engagement plan. Paid mentors with first-hand knowledge of the vicious cycle of Rochester’s poverty, trauma, drugs, gangs, and incarceration are hired to do what it takes to teach each member the keys to breaking free of the cycle. Volunteer mentors engage members via one-hour opportunities where extended interaction and cultural relatability are not requirements for maximum impact. Peer mentors leverage the power of peer pressure to support, encourage and hold fellow members accountable, especially when paid and volunteer mentors aren’t around. Celebrity mentors provide excitement, perspective and an alternative vision of social and economic success that surpasses that of drug dealers and gang leaders.

Student holding cake

Extended Family Values  

The EME Model works proactively to provide each member a feeling of belonging and genuine connectedness.

Programming follows a predictable structure and frequency that builds trust and confidence. Staff, volunteers and peers celebrate participants’ birthdays, academic achievements, character improvements and other key milestones. When adversity strikes at home, at school or in the community, the EME Model is there with the support, resources and accountability members need to get back on track and focused on academic and citizenship improvement.  

diagram of the Hybrid mentorvention model

Hybrid Mentorvention™  

The EME Model has revolutionized the mentoring space with Hybrid Mentorvention™, a proactive intervention strategy that combines one-on-one, group and peer mentoring with trauma-responsive life coaching to improve academic and social-emotional outcomes for urban teens in poverty. Participants’ past traumas, personal preferences and existing resources are taken into consideration and an individualized success plan is created to optimize future performance. Trained staff work with members to monitor and adjust success plans throughout the year to ensure the appropriate combination of support is received.

Student playing game attempting to pick up a marshmallow with chopsticks in his mouth

Gamification & Incentives  

The EME Model understands that urban teens in poverty are deeply-nuanced and any successful engagement strategy requires constant evolution to keep up with their interests. Champion Academy delivers key program principles in formats that participants can digest. Through the integration of customized cryptocurrency, members earn ‘revenue’ by participating in program elements, showing improvement at school, home or in the community. Assets can be used to purchase food, clothing, technology, entertainment, or even be converted into real cash.  

Students grocery shopping

Life Skill Fundamentals

The EME Model teaches members the critical soft and hard skills necessary to break generational challenges while becoming positive additions to the workforce of the 21st Century.  Throughout the year, members participate in workforce readiness, personal hygiene, financial literacy, computer competency, social etiquette, interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, leadership, teamwork, perseverance and college readiness trainings, workshops and experiences.

Student forecasting the weather on local news

Student-Centered Programming  

The EME Model puts its members at the center of the learning experience. Program elements are structured to require student leadership, collaboration, group effort, community-based activities and service-learning projects whenever possible. Member activities range from leading a voter registration drive, managing program social media accounts, helping with food services or running program logistics. Our members get the real-world experiences that boost self-esteem while paving the way for a smooth transition in college and career success.  

Life Skills

We also provide members with the skills they need to reach their goals.

Positive Goals

We help our members connect emotional management and academics performance to their future success.

ROle Models

The Champion Academy is a much-needed addition to Rochester’s fight to keep its teens on a path towards positive and productive citizenship. Powered by its Extreme Mentoring & Empowerment Model (EME Model)
Cindy Champlin
“As an educator of 26 years, I am deeply impressed with the social, emotional and academic transformation I’ve seen by students within the Champion Academy. This program is an intelligent and impactful solution that should be expanded.”
Cindy Champlin
Educator of 26 Years
Dr. Edward Schwarz
“Participating in the Champion Academy has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. This program is the necessary bridge our community desperately needs to connect students with tremendous need with people of means willing to help get them out of emotional and physical poverty.”
Dr. Edward Schwarz
Director, Center for Musculoskeletal Research, Burton Professor of Orthopedics
Antony Owens
“I started volunteering for the Champion Academy and was moved beyond words by the work they are doing. They engage students in a real way and have the courage to provide them with the love, honesty and discipline they really need to succeed.”
Antony Owens
Member Accountability Coach, Champion Academy