ROUND ROCK, Texas — Growing up is hard. Switching schools and moving out of state as a teenager is an even greater challenge.
"I wasn't even in Texas for like, a year, not even five months. It was my third month living here, [the] second week of school, and I made the wrong friends. There was an incident that happened," Naima Rattley said.
It landed 15-year-old Rattley in the Round Rock Opportunity Center.
"That's the school where, if your kid gets in trouble for fighting, they send your kid over there for 30, 45, 60-day stays," said Monica Huff-Dixon, a long-time educator.
During Rattley's stay in this DAEP, or disciplinary alternative educational program, she met Huff-Dixon.
The two formed a friendship and Huff-Dixon encouraged her to join The Colours Program – a program she helped start up that empowers young girls to become women of integrity.
"We wanted to focus on girls because a lot of times our girls, mostly brown-skinned girls, get shuffled into that, 'You have a bad attitude and a negative outlook on things.' Or 'I just don't like your attitude.' And a lot of times, you don't know what those girls are dealing with at home," Huff-Dixon said.
The girls are connected with ambassadors.
"Professional women who know that these girls need help, and they talk to them about their stories because all of us have a story. We didn't just become the person we are today. There was a long road we had to walk to get here," Huff-Dixon said. "We start at the age of 12, we go to 17. We ask to see their report cards on a regular basis. We try to let them know that we're here for them, no matter what."
Rattley said she instantly felt heard and supported.
"You tell them your goals, and they'll find every single way to make your goals happen. Like, 'Oh, you want to do this? Then we got you,'" Rattley said.
In her case, she made some bad choices when it came to friends because she was in a new element. Huff-Dixon said every girl who has come through the program has not returned to the DAEP, so she knows they're getting through to them.
It certainly takes a village. KVUE and Charles Maund Toyota rewarded Huff-Dixon $1,000 for paying it forward and helping so many young women.
Rattley's life is back on track, and she has Huff-Dixon and The Colours Program to thank.
"I mean, we all make mistakes. It's how you take that, if you take it as a lesson and move on from it, or if you take it and you keep going in the wrong direction," Rattley said.
The Colours Program meets once a month on Saturdays in Round Rock at the Opportunity Center from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. So far, about 15 girls have come through the program.
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