I should start this off by introducing myself, I am Nick Lazaro, 14 years old, and Jeanne and Phil Bell’s grandson, founders of ICYO (inner city youth opportunities). From a very young age I began going to ICYO, and when I say young I mean I was in the pumpkin seat witnessing everything.
Growing up in ICYO was a very, very, very special experience. I learned many life lessons. I learned things about humanity and kinship that you can’t very easily learn at this young of an age. From being raised in the program I befriended many kids who were in the program, which to me is very amazing. I broke all sorts of barriers that many kids who are in the upper class just don’t break this early on. My best friends as a kid were all inner city born and raised. Some of them were older than me and even mentored me. From my perspective everything was great, all the kids were happy and nice and welcoming, it was not until I was older that I saw the harsh reality.
As I grew up I started to help my grandparents in the program, specifically in the tutoring area. This was when I started getting confused. I started tutoring when I was about in 2nd or 3rd grade. Where I grew up in the suburbs of North Carolina the school system was not bad at all, in fact it was good. I remember the first time I sat down with a kid from ICYO after my grandmother had asked me to read with them. I thought it would be just like what I had experienced while reading to kids in North Carolina, it was nothing like it. I remember we were reading a Dr. Seuss book, and we opened it and the kid who I was working with asked me if I could read the first page for him, I thought to myself “of course, he probably just wants to get comfortable with me considering I had never met him”. So, I read the first page and I asked him if he could read the next one. He said no. I was confused on why he didn’t want to. So, I said okay well let’s do your homework and never thought anything more about it. It wasn’t until I grew older that I realized it is not that he didn’t want to read, it was that he couldn’t. This was so surreal to me, because where I was from reading was taught to everyone until they learned how to, and it seems as if in their school system they had been given up on. It was heartbreaking. But then I saw why my grandparents were doing what they were doing, it wasn’t just a place for kids to hang out and get some school work done like I had thought it was when I was a kid. It was a program to ensure there truly was no kid left behind.
I bonded with many of the kids and still do when I go to visit. I think and hope that being on the program for so long I have taught kids good morals, and good lessons in life. I truly do owe it to them just for all the amazing things that they have taught me in life. Being in the program has changed my perspective on life drastically. It taught me not to discriminate or to have prejudice. If I never had been involved in ICYO I would not be the same person that I am today. My heart goes out to every family in the inner city and my grandparents and their staff who do what they do to make the world a better place.