DES MOINES, Iowa — A new facility in Des Moines hopes to help local youth stay out of trouble and finish high school.
“We’re starting over. There’s a lot of chaos out there and no matter where you are at, it starts right here,” local activist and Starts Right Here owner Will Keeps said.
That is where the name Starts Right Here started. Keeps just got the building for his new alternative school last week, and he wants it to be so much more than just a school.
“I want them to come in here and feel like they’re superheroes, like they’re a part of a justice league. I want them to feel very important when they come here,” Keeps said.
He said an average of 50 kids will come from the partnership with Des Moines Public Schools.
“If a kid gets suspended, they don’t go home. They come to us. If a kid gets in trouble with Des Moines police and they get kicked out of Des Moines Public Schools, they don’t go home. They come to us. If a kid gets out of jail, they come to us,” Keeps said.
Keeps is also working with the Des Moines Police Department’s Second Chance Program, which helps local kids who have had run-ins with the law. Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie said the Second Chance Program is well received, but there needs to be something else.
“They have to have some place else to go after that. They have to feel like they’re wanted and they’re needed and that they have a chance,” Cownie said.
Keeps said Cownie is not the only person in power backing this facility. He said he also has support from Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst. But at the root of it all, it is the kids who support Keeps’ efforts.
“I’m one of the kids that is struggling and I can see why he picked me out. He wants me to do better, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” 18-year-old Des Moines resident Kei Threee said. “He’s not only a black man trying to do something with his life, he’s a black man trying to make stuff happen.”
Nineteen-year-old Des Moines resident Arkeya Quinn believes Starts Right Here will change lives.
“I know he changed my life; I was going down a bad path,” Quinn said. “I was in the court system and he was talking to my judge and my Pos and me, and at times when I wanted to run away or do something bad, he would tell me ‘no don’t do that.’ Or when I had negative people in my life, he told me to get rid of them, so I let the negative energy go.”
Keeps said in order for the Starts Right Here facility to open sometime in January or February, they need around $500,000. If you would like to donate to the program, you can visit their website at startsrighthere.org.