Leadership. Self-control. Responsibility.
Help our students to help others live productively
Project FLEX gives young men behind bars vision
of what's possible through their NIU mentors.
When our graduate students go behind the walls of juvenile state detention centers in Illinois, they deliver more than just fitness programming to one of the most isolated and vulnerable populations in our society.
They also deliver hope through teaching integral life skills and providing social and emotional support while also exposing the young men to higher education and college readiness.
The goal for professors Jenn Jacobs and Zachary Wahl-Alexander is to help youth make their time in prison more rehabilitative and ultimately lift their life opportunities post-incarceration.
Since the program’s inception, NIU has reached more than 350 incarcerated youth. Among those, seven have had the opportunity to attend a leadership retreats at Northern Illinois University and glimpse the prospect of eventually attending NIU for their college degrees.
Your generosity would help to purchase a 10-foot-by-40-foot mobile office trailer that would serve as our Project FLEX headquarters at one of the youth detentions centers.
What would a trailer do for Project FLEX?
Within our FLEX trailer, the team would expand programming to provide opportunities for our youth to acquire the skills to become certified personal trainers upon completion of our newest program: FLEX FIT.
FLEX will purchase exercise equipment, computers and study materials necessary to adequately train and prepare youth to successfully pass an accredited personal training course. This will allow them to gain access to employment in their community post-incarceration, which is cited as one of the strongest protective factors for formerly incarcerated people to gain success in their lives.
How has the program already changed lives?
Its impact knows no boundaries.
Branch programs include FLEX CREW (College Readiness Exposure Week), which advance the project’s goal of improving life outcomes for the young men by showing them what could await at college, and Swole Patrol, which offers one-on-one personal training and leadership development twice weekly to six clients.
Of the young men who’ve seen better paths, Jacobs reports, one “now runs a sports program at a community center at his neighborhood, and said he’s been implementing a lot of ideas from Project FLEX. He wants to keep in touch. He’s a really great example of how to change the trajectory of your life once you get out of prison. We’re really proud of that.”
At NIU, the program has funded 10 graduate students’ master’s degrees through research assistantships, giving them the opportunity to teach mentoring programs and collect research while pursuing their graduate degrees.
Almost all of these graduate students belong to underrepresented groups.
Those students have earned the opportunity to present this work at national conferences and have published manuscripts focused on program evaluation and youth health outcomes.