Leslie Thomas is a woman on a mission. Since establishing Vicki’s Home Inc. last January, Thomas has enthusiastically pursued change for the East Cleveland community. Vicki’s Home, located near the Louis Stokes Windermere Station, meets the needs of East Cleveland’s families through several valuable programs, such as Phenom Youth Empowerment and The Parent Cafe.
Thomas’s desire to help others took root while she was a child. Vicki’s Home Inc. is named after her mother, a five-time cancer survivor and former foster parent. Although an only child, she developed sibling relationships with the foster children with whom she grew up, relationships that have deeply influenced her path in life.
After graduating from Shaw High School, Thomas built an extensive resume, including a business degree and a certificate in suicide prevention. In addition, she is a mental health first aider with STNA experience. Thomas credits much of her success to Ms. Pernel, a childhood mentor with whom she developed a relationship at the Korb Lounge, a space similar to Phenom Youth Empowerment.
“My motivation comes from that experience [with the Korb Lounge] and the desire to give our youth what I experienced as a young teen that helped mold me. If it wasn’t for The Korb Lounge, a lot of us would have turned out differently,” says Thomas.
She did not have to venture far to find youth who were seeking mentorship and community. In fact, she was approached by three young ladies while facilitating a lunch program in East Cleveland. The idea for the program grew after a moment of empathy and understanding between Leslie and the students. She describes Phenom Youth Empowerment as an organization “for the youth by the youth.”
“We would talk about issues that they were having in and outside of school. I began sharing with them how important it is to practice self-love,” Thomas explains. “From our conversations, I created a program that would allow youth to express themselves and expose them to a new way of life, encouraging them to see themselves from a different perspective.”
Maya, an active member of Phenom Youth Empowerment, says that Thomas helps them see that “we are not our environment and that we can live beyond adversity. We are not victims of society and we are phenomenal; we can achieve anything we set our minds to.”
What makes Vicki’s Home Inc. exceptional is not the number of programs offered but its foundational mission to restore urban families. Thomas says that “Vicki’s Home’s mission is to change and save the lives of at-risk youth and strengthen family bonds through unique and innovative programs.”
Thomas understands that to empower youth, she must also empower their parents. One result of that understanding is The Parent Cafe, a support group for peer mentorship and a safe space for previously incarcerated mothers to visit their children who are currently in foster care. Ms. Thomas believes that creating good memories can help rebuild family relationships. Through the use of art, literature, and cooking, The Parent Cafe creates new memories for families.
Vicki’s Home Inc. is also a welcoming place for foster children who age out of the system with minimal support to seek refuge.
Thomas is passionate about helping East Cleveland youth and believes that her efforts are needed there most. A recent news article published by Cleveland.com describes the disheartening struggles of the city, from food deserts to missing street lights. But community leaders like Thomas work tirelessly to effect change.
“I choose to give back to the East Cleveland community because these programs are needed,” Thomas says. “Our youth are struggling to find themselves and are faced with numerous adversities that disallows them to advance in life, distractions from becoming what they desire to be.”
Clearly, Ms. L, as her students call her, has started a transformative movement in her community, a movement that offers support and hope, changing lives for the better. To learn more about Vicki’s Home Inc. and for information on how to donate, please visit their website.