Inspiring Minds opens doors for youth

Annual gala raises funds, awareness for mentorship program

WARREN — More than 18 years after not fulfilling a dream of a long NFL career, Deryck Toles had not imagined the idea of helping five students from his old neighborhood in Warren would blossom into a program with chapters in five cities and a new one soon to be opening.

The 43-year-old Warren native and a supportive group of men and women whose goal has been to provide hope, mentorship and inspiration has grown Inspiring Minds into an organization that has helped hundreds of school-aged children grow into confident young people ready to make their mark in the world.

He spoke during the 18th annual Inspiring Minds gala Saturday in Warren.

“When I started, I just wanted to help some kids in the community,” Toles described. “I had some people who grew up on the block who wanted to talk to me about life.”

Some kids never left the block they were growing up in.

Toles described being able to move away from Warren through his talent and love for football. He chased his NFL dream for a few years before getting injured and realizing it was not a career he would be able to achieve in the long term.

“I went through a lot of things,” he said. “I went through a lot of struggles. Some negative and some positive.”

He wanted to open the door for others.

Inspiring Minds has over the years worked with more than 6,000 students. These students have traveled to more than 90 cities in 20 states and taken overseas trips to Africa, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Jamaica and Costa Rica.

It now has chapters in New York, Dallas Texas and other cities.

“It has taken a lot of people who have believed in the concept of this organization,” Toles said. “It is about impact. It is about partnering with the right communities.”

The New Orleans fundraising dinner is Inspiring Minds’ biggest fundraiser.

For Sean and Jamie Stephens, Inspiring Minds has worked to help their 13-year-old daughter and their 14-year-old son, Preston. The Boardman residents have their children working with the Inspiring Minds’ Youngstown chapter.

“We felt it was very important for our children to see successful people who looked like them,” Jamie Stephens said. “They are black and live in a community that is predominately white.”

The interracial couple talked about the importance of their children seeing and being with other successful black families with children their ages.

“This has been a very positive experience,” Sean said. “Our children have had very positive experiences and opportunities they may not have gotten outside of Inspiring Minds.”

All Inspiring Mind students create career portfolios they can take with them as they prepare for college and beyond.

Terry Shavers of Braceville Community Foundation has personally seen how Inspiring Minds helps young people in his life. Shavers has several relatives currently involved in the program.

“They get to travel, see various colleges they might want to consider,” Shavers described.

Brooklynn Molden of Warren is an 11th-grade student who has been involved with Inspiring Minds since entering the third grade.

“Inspiring Minds mentors have encouraged me to finish my school work even on those days when I don’t want to do it,” she said.

“We’ve traveled everywhere, including Washington D.C., Florida and New Orleans this year,” she said. “This is a really nice community.”

Camar Fuller, 17, and Lamarrio Salter, 15, were among the dozens of students who helped guests and set the scene of the New Orleans-styled luncheon buffet and fundraiser.

Fuller, an 11th-grade student, has been working with Inspiring Minds for eight months.

“So far, it has helped me talk and communicate better.”

Salter, 15, a freshman at Warren G. Harding High School, has been with Inspiring Minds since the third grade.

“I wasn’t doing well in school,” he admitted. “My mom found Inspiring Minds and I’ve been with them ever since.”

Since joining the program, Salter described becoming a straight-A student.

“I’ve gotten better at speaking to people,” he said. “I used to have a stuttering problem. Now I feel comfortable talking in almost any situation.”

The ninth grader has not chosen a college from those Historically Black Colleges he has been able to visit over the years, but insists that whatever college he will attend he will be a business and finance major.

Warren City Schools Superintendent Steve Chiaro described Inspiring Minds as an important partner with the district in providing confidence and a sense of direction to many of its students.

“We are coordinating year-round programming for students,” Chiaro said. “It started with the summer program and continues with after-school programs for McGuffey and Lincoln schools.”

Inspiring Minds has helped students as they’ve grown to the high school level.

“It tries to help students with the soft skills they need to be successful,” he said.

Kenneth Boone, a site instructor with the Youngstown chapter of Inspiring Minds, worked with Toles while at the Wean Foundation.

“I worked for the Youngstown Clerk of Courts for many years,” he said.

The Youngstown chapter currently has 70 students in its program.

“We have weekly grade check-ins,” he said. “We, the adult volunteers at Inspiring Minds, are like a relief pitcher for the students and their parents. What parents may miss one of our volunteers often notices, and are able to address whatever concerns students may be facing.”

Have an interesting news story? Contact Raymond Smith by email at rsmith@tribtoday.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.


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