This nonprofit focuses on providing young people exposure to professionals, role models and opportunities.
Community is more than a word for Shecara Vardiman – she's experienced it firsthand. As a child growing up on Detroit's west side – Puritan Avenue and Livernois – in a house of 10 people, being communal was a daily activity. "One summer we had 13 (people), two dogs and someone renting a room (in a two-family flat)," Vardiman says. "I tell people all the time – I know community." While attending Oak Park High, she (and other students in her Junior Achievement class) received a word of encouragement from former mayor and business owner Dave Bing, which changed her perspective on life. "Fast forward from there, I ended up serving in Dress for Success helping women go from welfare to work to their own self-sufficiency," she says. "I was one of the youngest mentors of Dress For Success." Vardiman earned a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism from California State University, Los Angeles, and although she returned to Detroit for a job in television news, with stints at Radio One and later at TV One, it became apparent to her that this wasn't the path she was destined for.
Landing in Washington, D.C., Vardiman's Esteem We Inc. was borne out of this experience, where she organized a community day at McKinley Technology High School and H.D. Woodson High School. In 2011, she took the concept to Detroit, which became the annual Youth Day Explosion held at Cobo Center. The next one is planned for May. Esteem We is purposely aimed at youth ages 13-19. Although she was advised that more funding for her program would come from a traditional K-12 model, this wasn't the point or the emphasis. "We work with youth ages 13-19 (because) I'm driven by the fact that at that particular age, it's pretty much the throwaway age where people figure we can't reach them," Vardiman says. "Our mission is solely to make sure professionals are serving that demographic. We want to make sure we provide resources, information, and opportunities for those youth."
Vardiman adds that the organization's focus is on life skills, training and education enhancement, so that young people and their families can have knowledge of what's going on in their own backyard. "We're featuring skilled trades this year (and) financial literacy for 2019," Vardiman says. "We want to make sure young people have an opportunity to make another decision. We've gotten students jobs as interns through Youth Day – we've gotten them scholarships right at the table in our venues … our main thing is that they have that access and exposure." The Detroit Possible campaign helps to fund Youth Day Explosion. "We have a new Detroit Possible brand," she says. "Through that brand we're teaching them the importance of branding in business and marketing."
Vardiman admits that although she's the founder of Esteem We, she hasn't done it alone, with several sponsors and others in the community, the nonprofit, which got its 501c3 designation in 2017, is planning bigger and better things, but it'll only happen with collective support. This year, they're expecting over 1,500 youth to attend the event. "We want our young people to know that we are showing up for them. Our brand (tagline) is 'Nothing is Impossible.' We want our people to know that whatever they can see, they can be," Vardiman says. "We want to expose them to as much as possible so that they'll know what's possible in their lives. They're not lost. There's hope for them and there's people who care about their education, their careers and the possibilities of their lives. Nothing is impossible."
Esteem We Inc. will hold its Youth Day kick-off on Thursday, Jan. 24 from 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m., as of press time, the location is still being determined. For more information call 248-242-2766 or visit esteemwe.org.