BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — With Western New Yorkers carrying the weight of several life-changing events over the past couple of years, many programs are trying to help guide the way back to a sense of normalcy. It has been a challenging few years for school-aged children, who have had to cope with learning at home amid a pandemic, and an uptick in bullying both in person and online.

“Eleven is the new 15, between phones, and games and everything else,” Building Greatness Director of Community Relations Mark Kramer said. “Kids are growing up a lot quicker and we want to plant positive seeds.”

Building Greatness is a local organization that teaches kids ages seven to 15 life skills such as hygiene, nutrition, financial literacy, coping mechanisms and dressing for success. The group wants to support young people and show them their capabilities.

“We figure we are able to attack our youth — now give them what they need. Whether that be self confidence, or just telling them there is an alternative route,” Steven Butler, co-founder of Building Greatness, added.

The program is free and is sponsored by the founders, who own small businesses across Buffalo. They want to help the next generation grow into well-rounded adults.

“We are firm believers that it takes a village. and so we are the village that are going to wrap around these kids, but we need help,” Felicia Williamson, co-founder, said.

The kids say their favorite parts were learning about mentoring, health, and respect. Several of them noted the nutritional lessons where they got to sample fruits and vegetables.

“It’s like I’m making a whole new family,” Deverin Hall, a program participant, said.

As the inagural semester concludes, the organization is looking ahead to the fall. The kids say others should join, because mentoring has made a difference in their lives.

“Some kids might not have their mom, their dad, or something like that,” fellow program participant Amahd Simmons said. “Their family might be going through something, but [they have] a mentor to talk to them.”

Along with the programs for these kids, the mentors thought it was important to bring in mental health counselors for them after the Tops Markets mass shooting. The kids said they learned so much this year that they cannot wait to be together again in the fall.

“I think people should come here, so they aren’t on the couch, and be bad at school and because everybody doesn’t have a family member that means a lot to them,” Terrance Howard, another program participant, added.

If you are interested in enrolling your child, volunteering or becoming a mentor, contact Felicia at feliciaw024@gmail.com or Douglas at gr8elite@icloud.com.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.