For underserved high school students, scholarships can be a lifeline, but they don’t provide everything a student needs for success.
That’s where Fort Worth nonprofit Create + Collaborate steps in to ensure that students have the resources they need for the next steps of their lives, even when college isn’t in the picture.
Create + Collaborate offers opportunities for underserved students in the Fort Worth area through leadership training and mentoring. Students can stay in the program from ages 18 until they turn 23.
The founder, Ricquel Archer, 32, noticed that many youth services stop when students reach the age of 18, right when they may need them most.
“Students experience the same obstacles and struggles over and over again. I want to work for their success after they turn 18,” Archer said, nodding to her own personal struggles after high school.
Since the organization was founded in 2020, Create + Collaborate has welcomed 25 students each year. The organization currently serves 52 students and plans to welcome the third cohort of students in spring 2023.
Students participate in a leadership development course called “Fit For The Future” that teaches them how to build brand, identity, confidence, self-efficacy and community engagement.
Then the students are each paired with a mentor for the length of the program. Local businesses and companies have been huge in recruiting mentors, Archer added.
“We try to pair students with a mentor in their interested career field,” said Dominique Cooke, vice president of programs for Create + Collaborate. “Our mentors are just as diverse as our students.”
Mentors are constantly engaged with their students and understand them personally rather than career-wise, said mentor Jonathan Lowe.
For students who do choose to attend college, the organization holds Create College, a dorm drive that helps students fully furnish their dorm rooms. Create College was designed to ease the financial burden that comes from furnishing a dorm room.
In July, Target and IKEA both donated furniture to the dorm drive, and students received $500 to help furnish their rooms, Archer said.
Create + Collaborate also emphasizes that college is not the only pathway to success.
“We are not a college prep program. We don’t prepare students for college. We prepare them for life,” Cooke said.
Most of the students in Create + Collaborate’s programs attend high school in 76105 and 76104 ZIP codes, Archer said. After graduating, many students will attend college in the area as well, but the program will follow wherever the student chooses to go.
The program’s newest grassroots program, Create Athletics, is designed to send students to high profile athletic camps in their area, giving them access to proper coaching, training and equipment that opens the door to collegiate athletics.
A player’s dream becomes reality
About three years ago, Archer met Darius Ford, a hopeful incoming college freshman and talented basketball player. Ford attended the Young Men’s Leadership Academy, located in east Fort Worth, and played basketball at the community center where Archer worked.
“I met Ms. Ricquel through the community center, and she actually presented the idea for Create + Collaborate to me when she hadn’t put anything into play yet,” Ford said. “I told her she had my full support in doing it.”
Ford was also seeking a full-ride scholarship from Texas Christian University, but he needed a suit for scholarship interviews.
“I never had a suit. I was just going to show up in a college shirt or show up in what I had,” said Ford. “I asked Ms. Ricquel to help me, and she found some people to take care of me. I got everything from the tie, to cufflinks and matching shoes — I still wear the suit today.”
Ford went on to become a TCU Chancellor Scholar, receiving a full ride to college. He became the inspiration and a “founding student” of Create + Collaborate.
When he arrived at TCU, Ford wasn’t sure how he was going to pay to furnish his dorm room.
“I didn’t come from much. I was homeless growing up, and I didn’t really have anything,” Ford said. “Ms. Ricquel took me under her wing and said, ‘I got you,’ and that’s how it all happened.”
Ford, now 21 and a junior at TCU, has played basketball as long as he can remember. He always dreamed of playing Division I basketball but didn’t know how to get there.
After arriving at TCU in 2020, he asked to walk on to the TCU basketball team. There were no spots, but he was offered a team manager position with hopes to later earn a walk-on spot, Ford said.
“Ms. Ricquel was helping me through it all, even when I was a manager for a year,” Ford added. “I worked really hard at it, did whatever I had to do to help the team.”
Archer always tried to come to games as much as she could, even when Ford didn’t play.
“I always appreciate her for that. Just knowing she shows up even when I am not playing lets me know she’s there when I do play – she was there from the beginning,” Ford said.
Last year during the 2021-2022 season, Ford earned an official walk-on spot for the TCU basketball team roster as a guard. He wears No. 30.
In the eyes of NCAA basketball, Ford is only a sophomore. He still has the rest of the 2022-2023 season and two more seasons after to play on the team.
“Darius is intense. He is so passionate,” said Lowe, Ford’s Create + Collaborate mentor. “Darius has grown so much from team manager to a walk-on stand-out on the team.”
Lowe, 39, has been with Ford since the beginning, even before he was his mentor. Lowe was Ford’s career readiness coach during high school before he officially became a mentor for Create + Collaborate.
“Darius has a tenacity for life I’ve never seen before,” Lowe said. “He’s always working to be better.”
Ford still looks to Lowe for advice and friendship many years later.
“The program and Ms. Ricquel changed my life,” Ford said. “I want kids from every background to know that Create + Collaborate is an organization that you can depend on for whatever you need and they will walk with you through your life.”
Izzy Acheson is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.