Rivertree Academy Summer Work Program

This was an awesome effort with folks across the community. We couldn’t have done it without the help of all of our partners, including The Miles Foundation, the R4 Foundation, The Cary Brown Foundation and so many others.
— Terrence Butler, Executive Director, Rivertree Academy

In the early morning sunlight, a group of teenagers plays basketball on the recently refurbished court at Rivertree Academy in Lake Como. These young men, ranging in age from 12 to 17, are sharing a few minutes of camaraderie and friendly competition before putting in a day of work and service.

Every weekday morning for 10 weeks during the summer, the boys of the Rivertree Academy Summer Work Program choose to wake up and go to a job, learning essential lessons about life and work while providing a valuable service to their community. Through this summer program, boys from the high-crime, low-income neighborhood of Lake Como apply and interview to be a part of the selective team that is hired to clean up their local neighborhood.

The program is organized and led by Jamaal Johnson, Rivertree Academy’s Student Services Coordinator. Rivertree Academy is a recently-opened private Christian school in Como that provides community-funded education for under-resourced students from the area.


Rivertree Academy saw a need for real-world work training and mentorship for the students at its local school, and young people in the community responded with an outpouring of interest in summer jobs. The program was able to hire 16 boys, in addition to four college-aged team leaders who would help mentor and support the boys throughout their three months together.

Terrence Butler, Executive Director of Rivertree Academy, said the community response to the program was overwhelming. In fact, he says he could have employed 50 young people based on the demand and interest that came flooding in just from simple flyers posted in store windows around town.

Much of that interest was not just in the work experience that the young men would be exposed to, although that was valuable in its own right. It was the mentorship and guidance the boys received from their team leaders that distinguished this from any other summer work program. The four leaders were each charged with managing and coaching four to five young men who were a part of their team.

As a result of this unique design and one-on-one attention, the work program brought out the best of its group. While the initial projects were simple, such as picking up trash and mowing yards, the boys quickly began identifying other needs and tackling those projects, as well. By the end of the summer, the Rivertree Academy Summer Work Program students were disassembling dilapidated sheds on abandoned properties, digging trenching for a water system, and painting the entire exteriors of their neighbors’ houses.

The work ethic and service mindset that was instilled in the boys during their summer work program was perhaps best exemplified on the July 4th holiday this past year. Instead of watching the historic Como July 4th parade as bystanders, the young men of the Rivertree Academy Summer Work Program volunteered to work the barricades. That type of leadership does not happen by accident – it is learned, through real, transformative experience.

Congratulations to the leaders of the Rivertree Academy Summer Work Program for facilitating an experience that will have a lasting impact on these young men and future leaders.