The 50 Chosen

by Terry Watson | January 9th, 2013
The 50 Chosen

The 50 Chosen

or as long as she can remember, Evainna Ross has focused on helping others. It’s a trait she inherited from her parents, who set wonderful examples for her. She can remember visiting neighbors’ houses with her mother and father, often late at night to drop off groceries for people who were less fortunate. To make sure the recipients wouldn’t feel self-conscious, one of her parents would run to the porch, drop off the goodies, knock on the door and then dash back to the car– where the other parent would be waiting to drive away. Those moments of self-sacrifice had a profound influence on her that would provide the foundation for her organization, The Chosen 50.

In the early 1990s, Ross attended Saint James Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C. where she became the youth director. Working under the leadership of her mentor, Pastor Prince E. Graves, she learned a lot about young people from all walks of life and the struggles they faced. On one occasion, she can recall meeting with youth to discuss details on a beach trip they had earned. The church had paid for the trip, but the youth would have to provide their own “snack money”, which amounted to about $3 per child. After the meeting, several youth solemnly confided in her that they would not be able to go on the coveted trip, because they didn’t have the funds. At that moment, she had learned another very valuable life lesson about the true needs of others. She made sure every child got a chance to go on that trip, and she never took for granted the needs of some children. And that’s when she begun to focus on the needs of youth outside of her church.

Her first goal was to create a teen center that would provide youth in the community to receive free educational, cultural and social programs on a daily basis. She discovered an abandoned and condemned building she thought would suit the purpose perfectly. After detailing her plans with the building’s owners, for only about 30 minutes, they donated the building outright.

Ross then did a lot of research about what it would cost to renovate the dilapidated structure that totaled a sum of $2 million dollars. A mountainous financial hurdle, not to mention the time it would take to supervise the project. Working a full-time job with no other resources, she decided on a different course of action. She sold the building and used the proceeds to buy a van. She had the van wrapped in an eye catching design, created by local artist, DRL Toons. Now her dreams were mobile. She and her volunteers began driving the van to public housing communities to offer the same program she had once envisioned for her building. The only difference was, instead of ballroom dancing on a hardwood floors, they did it on basketball courts. Instead of cooking in commercial kitchens, they did it in community centers. For over a year, these free programs were offered on almost every weekend, serving hundreds of area youth. The demand became too large for the organization with few volunteers, so, once again, modifications were made. And, in August of 2010, The Chosen 50 was born.

The idea behind The Chosen 50 is to select 50 middle and high school youth to join a comprehensive nine month leadership and character development program. “Our goal is to see youth defined by their intelligence and their character and not by negative stereotypes associated with their neighborhoods,” says Evainna. She and her organization began helping youth balance the messages they encountered on a daily basis.

“Everyday they would see and hear messages from recording artists, actors/actresses who promoted “hood life” is an acceptable existence or that it’s okay to smoke weed, drink, demean the opposite sex and have no respect for authority,” says Ross. “We understand we can’t eliminate these messages, but it’s our goal to turn the volume down on the negative ones and counteract them with positive alternatives and scenery.”

Ross and her volunteers work with these students two to three Saturdays each month. Some of the programs offered by The Chosen 50 include: creating and nurturing small businesses, running for public office and managing a political campaign, and understanding an investment portfolio. She wants to help these youth be able to negotiate life’s very real challenges by utilizing real world solutions.

Ross is committed to her vision that was born years ago and still filled with energy and promise for the years ahead. “I believe all youth should have the opportunity to be successful and not limited by their financial resources. I don’t want to be someone who merely talks about the plight of our youth, but I want to be a solution, even if it’s 50 at a time,” she says.

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