By Dan Cava
May 24, 2016
Nestled quietly near two neighborhood bars in NoDa is one Charlotte’s most important artistic outlets. But rather than serving the clientele we normally associate with North Charlotte’s burgeoning mini-Brooklyn, this lime green building is helping create the artists, musicians, and leaders of tomorrow.
The Behailu Academy is an after-school program geared towards students in 7th-12th grades. Through mentorship, tutoring, and exposure to the arts, Behailu students are given a chance to flourish and explore in a safe and positive environment away from life circumstances that are very often beyond their control.
I attended their annual fundraiser, The Mosaic Awards, where the academy honors community members who, according to executive director Lori Krzeszewski, play “an active, selfless role in working for the greater good.” During an evening of spectacular music, delicious food, themed drinks, and inspiring gallery student gallery exhibits, the Mosaic Awards honored Charlotte mayor pro temp Vi Lyles, former Carolina Panther Mike Rucker, and Fashion & Compassion CEO Michelle Dudley.
I spoke with Krzeszewski (affectionately known as “Miss Lori” to the students) and Mike Rucker to learn more about the role that Behailu Academy plays in the community and in the lives of their students.
Behailu is changing lives.
The students who attend Behailu free of charge are having transformative experiences at Behailu. One student I met, a high-schooler named Daniel who wants to pursue a career in technology, called his time at Behailu “a fresh start.”
Krzeszewski has seen the impact in her students’ academic careers as well. “There has been a steady rise in gains made in terms of academic performance amongst our kids over the last four years, as well as increases in the number of students pursuing post-secondary education. More importantly, we’ve seen a real shift in what teens believe is possible for themselves and their lives.”
Appropriately for Behailu’s presence in NoDa, Krzeszewski sees the arts as a central component to these results. “Through the arts,” she explains, “students heal, students grow, and students find a creative outlet. They find a way to express themselves, to be heard, and engage with the world.”
Behailu is community engagement at its best.
“I wouldn’t have gotten here by myself,” says Rucker, referring to his rise from a small Missouri town to a Pro Bowl-level NFL career. He had helping hands all along the way and knows firsthand the impact on individual lives that mentors and community involvement can have. “I’m a community guy. I love coming on board with talented folks who get these structures going. It seems really fitting to me to give back.”
“When you look at society, some kids have a bigger head start than others,” says Rucker. Behailu Academy is “coming in and helping with the structure that these kids might not have.”
Behailu and its students benefit enormously from local support.
As a non-profit organization providing cost free services to a growing body of students, Behailu relies on the generous support and contributions of the Charlotte community. Rucker has known members of the staff for years, and knows the role he can play to bring attention to the school.
“I’m happy to be getting the award. But it’s more than the award, it’s the exposure for the Academy.” Rucker has been instrumental in getting other professional athletes involved, as evidenced by the incredible VIP sports packages made available at the Mosaic Awards auctions, a number of which consisted of prizes from the athlete’s own personal resources.
Krzeszewski says that there are a myriad of ways that people can get involved, starting by raising awareness of Behailu and their mission. “Spread the word!” she says with enthusiasm. “Tell people about what we do and why it matters. Come out and support our teens. Reach out to our staff for ways to volunteer or make a donation…Every child deserves an opportunity to learn, grow, and create.”
Interested volunteers or donors can contact the Behailu Academy via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 980-224-8854.