Traverse City Native Alex Goldsmith Is Changing Lives
By Craig Manning | July 13, 2021
Statistically, children who grow up in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to struggle academically, and few go to college. Those are trends a national nonprofit called New City Kids is trying to change through after-school programming based around music, tutoring, college prep, and youth mentorship. Last October, the organization launched a new chapter in Detroit, and the man in charge of that effort – Executive Director Alex Goldsmith – is a Michigan native whose roots just happen lead back to Traverse City.
Goldsmith graduated from Traverse City West Senior High in 2009, as class president, and attended Northwestern Michigan College for a year before transferring to Michigan State University to major in psychology and Spanish. Right out of college, he took an internship with New City Kids in New Jersey. He’s been with the organization ever since.
Though it’s now based in Grand Rapids, New City Kids was founded in Jersey City in 1994, with a foundation of Christian faith and service. Today, New City Kids has chapters in four cities – Jersey City and Paterson in New Jersey; Grand Rapids and Detroit in Michigan – and revolves largely around an after-school program that serves youth in poor neighborhoods. Christian faith, while still an element, is not a requirement.
“We’re a Christian program, so we offer Bible study, but we don't require any of our participants to be Christian to attend,” Goldsmith says.
The after-school programs are designed “to walk with students from first grade to graduation,” Goldsmith tells The Ticker. The organization hosts an “after-school center” for first through eighth grade students, who “come in and learn a musical instrument – like keyboard, bass guitar, or drums – and they can get help with homework,” Goldsmith explains. The element that makes New City Kids unique from other after-school programs is that most of the staff is made up of high school students from the same low-income neighborhoods.
“We hire local teenagers from local high schools, we train them, and then they're the leaders in our after-school center,” Goldsmith says. “So it's not me or other adult staff that are really running the show; it's these teens that are teaching, mentoring, and tutoring the younger students.”
Once the younger kids go home for the day, New City Kids shifts to serve its teen staff. “We do one-on-one mentorship, we do life skills – like money management and public speaking – and we do a lot of college readiness work,” Goldsmith says.
In Detroit, Goldsmith and his team work with neighborhoods where 90 percent of kids are on free or reduced-lunch programs (a common poverty marker), and where only about 15 percent of third grade students are reading at grade level. By offering (paying) jobs for local teens and providing mentorship in everything from music education to academic tutoring, New City Kids is striving to make a lasting difference in the lives of the kids it serves.
So far, it’s working.
“Every spring break, we go on a five-day college tour and we take teens to visit schools all over the area,” he notes. “And that's been really successful over the last 10 years [for our organization]. All of our high school students have graduated high school. 99 percent have gone off to college. And 92 percent graduate from college, which is about 10 times the average in the communities that we're serving.”
For Goldsmith, the job is a calling in more ways than one. Even when he was starting his internship in New Jersey, he viewed it as the rare career path that could combine his high school experiences in leadership, his musical interests, and his faith. “It was a convergence of everything that I wanted to do,” he says.
Then, the dream deepened. Working toward transformative change in New Jersey was rewarding, but even in the early days of his internship, Goldsmith felt a tug to see what impact New City Kids could have in his home state.
“Right around the time [of my internship] in 2014, that was when Detroit was just always in the news – and not in good ways,” Goldsmith recalls. “It was getting national attention for having the worst education system in the country; for music programs getting cut from schools; for crime rates on the rise. I felt like this program would be a great fit in Detroit.”
So Goldsmith committed himself to New City Kids long term. He joined the staff, then worked his way up to a director role at one of the after-school centers in New Jersey. He even went back to school, earning a masters degree in social work from Rutgers University. Finally, in 2020, his dream came true: Detroit would be the next city to get a New City Kids expansion, and Goldsmith would be the executive director. He and his wife – about to give birth to their first child – moved back to Michigan. And then COVID hit.
The pandemic caused pause for Goldsmith and New City Kids. Recruiting teen staff from local high schools became a challenge, given that most students were in virtual learning mode at the time. As for offering a safe in-person after-school experience in the midst of COVID, that was its own hurdle.
“We asked ourselves, ‘Do we even launch now, given that it’s not ideal?’” Goldsmith says. “But we found that so many of our students are in challenging circumstances – at home and academically – and we had the opportunity to be a resource for them in a very hard year. So that actually became sort of a hidden benefit...Everything in our students’ lives was closed down, and we were one of the only places for them to go, and one of the only places of community they could have.”
Now that New City Kids is launched, Goldsmith says the big goal is to reach more kids. Right now, the nonprofit serves approximately 500 students daily across its four locations – including about 50 in Detroit. By 2030, New City Kids wants to serve 2,030 kids – a number Goldsmith expects will involve both “multiplying within the cities we currently serve,” as well as identifying additional cities where the model might be a good fit.
For Goldsmith, the goal is even simpler: Making positive change in the state he’s always called home, and in the city that’s more recently earned that title.
“It’s really special to be able to come back to my own home state,” he says. “And I think, as the biggest city in our state, we should care about what's happening in Detroit. As the city goes, so goes everything else."Comment