A boy works on math problems at Youth Believing in Change

Outside a converted church building near the Lake Highlands YMCA, laughing children run in groups playing basketball and tag. Inside, kids clustered by ages work on homework with helpful teachers. The students are attending an after school program at Youth Believing in Change (YBC), a Lake Highlands nonprofit. YBC, one of the longest-running after school programs in Dallas, began in Vickery in 1994 and met in pizza parlors, parks and churches until local philanthropist Trevor Rees-Jones donated funds for the purchase of their current facility, then a Korean church.

Reverend Vincent Gaddis, director of YBC and a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary’s master’s program in Christian education, is unapologetic in his Christian teaching methods. Each day begins with a meal to feed hungry bellies, but no day ends before students spend time in praise and worship. Kids also memorize bible verses to aid with memory, gain in confidence and strengthen their spiritual foundation.

A spiritual foundation will come in handy as life throws them the unexpected, Gaddis says – and he should know. Gaddis did prison time in Tennessee as a drug dealer in the 80s before turning his drugs over to police and his life over to his maker. Scripture learned as a child stayed with him, and today he often quotes Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

At Gaddis’ side is wife, Angela, leader of music for YBC and holder of a degree in Music Education from UTA and ten years of experience teaching in Dallas public schools. Their facility on Stults Road is owned by YBC, as are the buses which ferry kids from schools in RISD and DISD each afternoon. Families of the students, aged 4-14, learn of the program through word-of-mouth and from flyers sent to schools and apartment complexes.

Gaddis, quick with a smile and perpetually ready to tick-off his program’s successes, believes the key to YBC is its people.

“Nothing reaches deeper into a child’s personality than relationships,” Gaddis says. “When children have a nurturing relationship with spirit-filled adults, they easily receive, retain and recall more information. Their grades improve, they attend school on a more regular basis, they don’t get into trouble and their self-esteem soars.”

Labels, though, he’s not so high on.

“ADD, as far as I’m concerned, stands for Adult Deficit Disorder. Children need adults who are paying attention. Kids have to be in an atmosphere feeling loved and cared for. I think many kids are over-labeled and over-drugged. I think many are overlooked and misunderstood.”

Gaddis, whose kids come from a wide variety of ethnic groups and have landed in Dallas from various points on the globe, knows YBC fills a gap for parents who cannot or will not be home when kids arrive after school.

“When these kids come to YBC, it’s like coming home to momma. Kids know they’re going to get love and nurturing.”

Gaddis admits, though, that leading YBC hasn’t always been easy on his own son and daughter, now grown, who had to fight for his attention as he and his wife lavished affection upon children in the program.

“I’ll never forget the day I made hot chocolate at home while my daughter worked on school papers at the kitchen table. She looked up and said, ‘I like doing my homework at home.’ She was really saying, ‘I like having my daddy to myself.’ But for kids at YBC, no one is at home.”

In addition to its free after school program Monday-Thursday, YBC offers a fee-based summer program for students from 4-18. Buses begin pickup at 8:30 a.m., and meals, arts & crafts and DEAR (drop everything and read) are included. Volunteers are needed and often include service leagues, Sunday school classes and scout troops. Paid teen interns fill in around the edges.

“We’ve had a lot of success with kids,” says Gaddis. “I run into kids all the time who used to come here, and they thank me. We have kids here now whose parents used to come here. The power of the Holy Spirit to change lives is immeasurable.”

If you have an interest in helping YBC, you may sign up to volunteer here or donate here ($25 covers school supplies for a week and $50 pays for meals for a day). YBC is hosting an “Evening of Change” on April 19th with featured speaker Virginia Prodan, who grew up in Romania during the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu.

Girls huddle together at praise and worship

Boys work on computers at Youth Believing in Change

Girls finish their work

Free after school meals fill hungry bellies

Angela Gaddis (right) leads praise and worship

Youth Believing in Change is one of Dallas’ longest running after school programs