Leadership. Perseverance. Responsibility.
Help our students to help others live positively.
Project FLEX gives young men and women behind bars a 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 deliver hope through teaching integral life skills and providing social and emotional support while also exposing the young people to the possibility of college.
The goal for professors Jenn Jacobs and Zachary Wahl-Alexander is to help youth make their time in prison more rehabilitative and ultimately bolster their life opportunities post-incarceration.
Since the program’s inception, Project FLEX has reached more than 350 incarcerated youth. Among those, several have had the opportunity to attend a leadership retreats at Northern Illinois University and glimpse the prospect of eventually attending college.
Your generosity would help support constructing a designated space (The “FLEX Lab) that would serve as our Project FLEX headquarters at the St. Charles and Warrenville Illinois youth detentions centers.
What would the FLEX Lab do for the youth?
The institution of a FLEX Lab would allow us to expand programming that provides opportunities for youth to acquire professional skills to become certified coaches or fitness professionals 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 training courses. 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 advances the project’s goal of improving life outcomes for the young people by showing them what could await at college and Swole Patrol, which offers one-on-one personal training, mindfulness, and leadership development to clients who commit to a full-fledged personal development program.
Of the young people who’ve seen better paths, Jacobs reports, one FLEX alum “now runs a sports program at a community center in his neighborhood, and said he’s been implementing a lot of ideas from Project FLEX. He’s a phenomenal example of how to change the trajectory of your life once you leave prison.”
At NIU, the program has funded nearly a dozen graduate students’ master’s or doctoral 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.
Our NIU FLEX students have earned the opportunity to present their work at national conferences, through publishing manuscripts, appearing in the media, and through contributing to their prospective career fields.