Thrive Clermont teaches kids some of the “hardest and scariest parts of growing up” and much, much more. The organization is the brainchild of a mom who realized there were few resources for teens to learn what they need to learn to become successful adults. Seven years after its founding, Thrive Clermont is, well, thriving. The kids who are lucky enough to take part in this youth engagement organization are well on their way to the next phase of their lives, whether that means college or a trade.
Our small grants program gives us the ability to reach more children than we could ever reach with our own programs. This nonprofit for teens feels like a worthy endeavor, and we were pleased we could give Thrive Clermont an assist. We spoke with Thrive Clermont Founder and Executive Director Sheri F. Lewin to find out more about this work:
Kars4Kids: Can you tell us something about the demographic you serve?
Sheri Lewin: Thrive Clermont’s educational programs are created to serve any interested students ages 13-18 years old and are offered in venues throughout South Lake County, Florida and beyond. Our nine open programs in 2022 will serve 500+ students. In addition, our Teen Advisory Council is our leadership program for students and is comprised of students from all three public high schools, area private schools and also the homeschooled community.
Kars4Kids: Tell us about how you came to found your organization, Thrive Clermont?
Sheri Lewin: I raised three teens myself in South Lake County. As early as 2008, when our oldest was 13, I realized that there were very few resources offered for teens to learn life skills and explore careers. A full seven year later, in 2015, I finally found myself in the position to transition out of full time work and donate my time and my professional skills to the effort.
In 2015, my two youngest children were 13 and 15. As I noticed that the need in our community for these services remained and my passion to serve in this way was growing. I often found myself in parent circles, as one does when raising active children, and the parent discussions as well as my direct interaction with students continued to impress upon me that the teens in our community were in need of more support to transition post high school. Whether a student’s goal was a college degree, skilled trades career, or entrepreneurial, everyone could benefit from additional support and opportunities to build confidence and ensure greater success. And there was plenty of talent in our community if there was a framework in place. This led me to hold many coffees with community members and Thrive Clermont officially Incorporated in November 2015. We received our IRS 501(c)3 designation in March 2016 and our first program was a partnership with the local Boys & Girls Club in October 2016.
Kars4Kids: The mission statement on the website describes Thrive Clermont as a “youth engagement organization.” What does that mean? How does it differ from other youth groups? Is there a membership fee?
Sheri Lewin: Thrive Clermont is engaging youth on several levels. Our open programs such as our Adulting Workshops and Summer PopUps are open to any interested students ages 13-18. Local individuals and businesses create mini-workshops on at least 20 different hobbies or activities each June during Summer PopUps nights and the Adulting Workshops in the spring and fall offer career and college readiness, and personal financial literacy support.
Thrive’s programs are different in one way because our local community members who volunteer as instructors develop a custom curriculum around our theme and their expertise. Another unique feature is that our Teen Advisory Council helps design, plan and execute our programs. Which keeps them fresh and relevant. Teens serve as instructor liaisons, develop the post-event surveys, solicit door prizes, create social media campaigns, and more.
There is a $10 registration fee for programs which includes dinner. Fee waivers are available for students who need financial assistance.
Kars4Kids: Can you tell us about your Teen Advisory Council? What is the Harkness Method?
Sheri Lewin: Our Teen Advisory Council can be considered our student board of directors. The selected teens on our Teen Advisory Council serve for six months (or more) alongside adult mentors as they develop and execute many of the elements of our programming. We accept up to 20 students, twice a year. Students may reapply for more than one semester and are given greater responsibility or they take on different role on the Social Media Team, Video Team, or Event Planning Team.
There is an application and interview process and each student selected learns to build on their strengths to support the many elements that are needed for successful community programs. TAC members grow their self-leadership skills while learning about building successful community programming.
Regarding the Harkness Method, I honestly did not know that I was practicing the Harkness Method when I established the TAC. I just knew from experience that if you sat in a circle around a table like a board of directors might do, the students tended to act like more like a board. If you treated them as adults, I learned they trusted you and would engage more. Also, I believe the circle meeting setup equalizes the group and builds better discussion. So, one day, as I was describing how I ran the TAC meetings to a friend, he nodded and said “aahh, you use the Harkness Method,”
I had no idea what he was talking about, so I had to look it up! I learned that the Harkness Method is a teaching technique used in classrooms at Ivy League schools to prep students to be future Board of Directors and world leaders. There is definitely more to Harkness Method than that and plenty of articles online for those that want more. I do think it’s great, however, that we have the opportunity to set up our meetings that way for such a large group of 16 or more students monthly when we have our full TAC meetings. This is possible thanks to our partnership with our local college, which offers the perfect space.
Kars4Kids: Your summer pop-up activities are led by local community members. What sort of activities are offered? What are some of the advantages of involving the community?
Sheri Lewin: During our three nights of Summer PopUps 2022, local community members offered mini-workshops. Topics included: A Day In The Life Of A Fire Fighter; American Sign Language; Building a Healthy Lifestyle; Cake Decorating; Chess Tactics; College Essay Writing; Container Gardening; Create Your Own Spice Blend; Emergency Aid Tips; Intro to Improv, Longboarding; Love your Hair; Pier Fishing; Trail Skating; Photography; and a Make and Take art area.
Students pick one activity of their choice for the night, followed by food, music, and door prizes. We find that a local, engaged instructor that is paired with a small group of students who are interested in the same topic can create an environment where much learning and positive interactions occur. Summer PopUps are our most popular program and they are a lot of fun!
Kars4Kids: Your Adulting Series “demystifies the hardest and scariest parts of growing up.” What is hard and scary about growing up? How does your program offset these issues?
Sheri Lewin: Our early teen surveys and Teen Advisory Council shared that there are some basic skills and knowledge that are not offered in school or at home.
Our workshop on Personal Finance, for example, interactively takes students through all the important financial concepts related to buying a car, which for most students will be their first financed purchase.
Our Exploring Colleges Field Trip allows students the opportunity to meet representatives from 50+ schools and concludes with a Zoom coaching session to prepare them to narrow the field and ask good questions.
Kars4Kids: Mentoring is a part of what you do. Can you describe how you have incorporated mentoring into your program? Who are your mentors?
Sheri Lewin: Every adult volunteer in our program is considered a mentor. We recruit volunteers who can bring both professionalism and fun. From Instructors and activity leaders to our marketing professional who support our social media team, our students are impacted in every interaction.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for Thrive Clermont?
Sheri Lewin: Currently we are working on several initiatives to expand our Adulting Workshops to reach more students with expanded programming and transportation support. We currently serve 400-500 students a year and this represents only 10% of our high school student population in South Lake County. Our 3-year goal is increasing that number to 1,000 students served annually over the next three years through expansion of the successful Summer PopUps and the Adulting program.