A chance encounter in an inner city school in Birmingham, Alabama, changed the life of one young lady and thousands of Alabama’s youth. University of Alabama at Birmingham student Layla Carter met a young woman while tutoring at an after school program. The girl came from a neighborhood where violence, drugs, and sexual promiscuity were the norm. She was an unruly and apathetic student, and bordered on the edge of ruining her future. Layla saw a special light in the young lady, and also recognized the need for a more structured and lengthy relationship. Hence a friendship, and ultimately, a very fruitful mentoring relationship was formed.
Realizing the alarming number of young people in the Birmingham area in need of positive role models, Layla begin to recruit her peers to serve the youth of the area. This group of students, under Layla’ s guidance, began to mentor at Grace House, a home for abused and neglected girls. Many positive relationships were formed, and word quickly spread throughout Layla’ s college campus about these bonds. Excited about the opportunity to increase these relationships, Layla founded a student group named “Generation eXcel” which matched college students with at-risk youth. Since its inception, this group has continued to blossom. With Layla at the helm, the group provides the “Five Points of eXcellence” to all of Alabama’s youth. These points include: mentoring relationships with caring adults, safe places, healthy start, marketable skills, and opportunities to serve. In addition, “Generation eXcel” has a Web site for interested volunteers, and a how-to manual to guide the mentors step by step. Since 1998, Layla has served over 50,000 hours of community srvice through “Generation eXcel.”
A short while after founding the program, Layla embarked on a quest to encourage the youth of the state to follow their dreams and to meet their full potential, and also to challenge adults to invest their valuable time in service as mentors. She has spoken to students in elementary, middle, high schools and juvenile detention centers, as well as civic and community groups. At the heart of Layla’s passion is her personal creed, “the future of Alabama’s and America’s youth lies in the hearts, hands, and determination of each and every one of us.” Thus far, Layla has spoken to thousands throughout the state and is also a spokesperson for Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor’s “Mentor Alabama,” as well as an advocate for several other organizations that encourage positive impacts on the lives of children. She has partnered with America’s Promise, Central Alabama’s Promise, and the National Mentoring Partnership.
Layla was recently recognized as an America’s Promise Young Leader, and in 2002, the YWCA of Mobile, Alabama, honored her when she was awarded the “Young Woman of Achievement Award,” and also nominated for the Volunteer Mobile “Heart of Gold” award for her commitment to community service. Not one to rest on her laurels, Layla has embarked on “Project eXpansion,” an endeavor in which she is presently mobilizing community leaders, business owners, parents, and caring volunteers in order to develop the small town on Leeds, Alabama into a “Community of Promise.”