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Local teen's giving campaign

by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

Local gay teen Naheige Lewis was among the first youths to deliver VING checks to a deserving person in their life. Each person received $1,000 to give away and Lewis chose Kristin Trammell, his best friend's mom.

"She's a very important woman in my life. It's not just that she's my best friend's mom she's a great support to me as well," said Lewis. "I was looking at the work she's done in the community and I really felt that she deserved to be acknowledged. She works with my school, Bloom Trail High School in Chicago Heights, as the leader of the parent booster club of the theater department. She was very much involved in other things within the community including hosting several food drives, spearheading a coat drive, a doing a dress drive for girls who wanted to go to prom."

The VING Project's tagline is "giVING, receiVING, belieVING… There's a little VING in everything." The organization's aim is to give teens ages 14 to 18 a chance at connecting one-to-one to a person in need by making a video and answering the VING question: "If you had $1,000 to give to a person in need, who would you VING it to?"

Lewis and seven other Chicago-area students were among the VING Project's pilot program participants. Every month teens who are behind the most inspiring videos will be chosen from across the country to give to a person in need. The VING Project is, according to its website, "supported by a family who believes in the next generation of giving and has chosen to anonymously give you the opportunity to be the giver."

VING Project is bigger than the amount of money given. It's a person-to-person transformative experience that has a lasting impact on both the youth who is giving and the person receiving," said VING Project Director Jill McClain. "We were so fortunate to have Naheige with us for the launch of VING. He's a dynamic youth who despite facing challenges in his own life, is always looking for opportunities to better someone else. His generosity of spirit and enthusiasm for giving will no doubt take him far."

"It was extremely gratifying for me and even more so to see her face. We set it up where she came into the auditorium which was lined with people from the community, school and teachers who had worked with her," said Lewis. "As soon as she walked into the auditorium and saw what was happening she got a look of shock on her face and said 'Is this all for me?' It was really just a touching moment to see her understand that someone highly appreciated her and wanted to do something for her."

This isn't Lewis' first foray into giving back. He's been a member of the Uhlich Children's Advantage Network ( UCAN ) Youth Advisory Board ( YAB ) and the Diermier Future Leaders Now ( DFLN ) program as an ambassador, host and event planner. "I'm a speaker and mentor for the DFLN training institute, which is a six week course on the fifteen DFLN core values and bettering yourself with it. I'm also the editor-in-chief of the YAB newsletter," said Lewis.

"I got involved with the VING Project through the foster-care agency I'm with, UCAN. I actually got referred by my YAB newsletter supervisor Mary Whiting," said Lewis. "After I heard what the program was all about, I was really moved and wanted to be involved with it."

Lewis, a senior in high school, has been in foster care through the UCAN agency since March 2007. He was seven years old at the time. "For the last six years I've lived in the same foster home but before that I was in a group home for three years and various other foster homes before that," said Lewis.

Although Lewis is 18, they won't plan to emancipate out of the foster-care system. Lewis indicated that they will continue to support him until he is 23 years-old since he will be attending college next year.

Lewis is looking at Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida; University of Nevada Las Vegas; Columbia College; and University of Southern California. "All in all, I applied to 12 different schools. I'm thinking of getting a degree in broadcast journalism and a minor in creative writing. My dream job would involve journalism and writing because I love writing," said Lewis.

Not only is Lewis involved with UCAN, he is also a member of the Chicago Peace Hub Council. "It's another YAB with about 15 youths throughout Chicago that get together to address problems that are happening to our youth. I've been with them for two months," said Lewis.

As for other extracurricular activities, Lewis is involved with student council and is the editor-in-chief of his school yearbook among many other school activities.

Lewis noted that he's never experienced any negative feedback since coming out as gay when he was 12-years-old. "I've been very fortunate that I haven't had any problems," said Lewis. "I have very supportive friends and in the community that I live in it's not really a big deal. It wasn't an issue with my foster parents either."

"My favorite quote is Auntie Mame's motto from the 1958 movie starring Rosalind Russell. 'Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death'," said Lewis. "I like to live by that motto and embrace all that life has to offer."

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