STEUBENVILLE — Ja’Quan Lavender, founder and president of the Ja’Quan Lavender Foundation: The Journey to Gold, is looking forward to March 25.
That’s the day when the Steubenville man will not only share insight about his nonprofit, but also shine the spotlight on “community champions” who’ve had a positive impact on his life and the area.
The Gold Gala Awards at St. Florian Event Center, 286 Luray Drive, Wintersville, also will feature comments by Steubenville native Sylvia Crawley, a former Women’s National Basketball Association player who also was the head women’s basketball coach of the Boston College Eagles. A motivational speaker, Crawley is the CEO of Crawley’s Creations, owner of Crawley Wellness and co-founder of Monarch Magazine.
The fundraiser event is open to the public, and tickets are $50 per person with March 18 the deadline to purchase them through the e-mail email@example.com or https://www.eventbrite.com/…/gold-gala-awards-red. They also are available from foundation members or by making a check payable to the Ja’Quan Lavender Foundation and mailing it to P.O. Box 33, Steubenville OH 43952.
The gala begins at 5 p.m. with a red-carpet reception and will include a silent auction, a Gold Gala reception and awards presentation along with Crawley as keynote speaker.
The eight Community Champions honorees are:
– Darlene Bonetti Marnich, a former professor of Lavender’s at Point Park University;
– Ted Gorman, Steubenville High School principal;
– Bobbyjon Bauman, director of the Sycamore Youth Center and president of the Ohio Valley Youth Network;
– The Rev. Darrell W. Cummings, pastor of Bethlehem Apostolic Temple in Wheeling and Shiloh Apostolic Faith Assembly in Weirton and suffragan bishop of the Ohio Valley, Ohio District Council of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World Inc.;
– Tyler Madden, a reporter for WTOV-TV 9;
– Jack Thornton Jr., a track coach of Lavender’s;
– Willie McKenzie III, Mingo Junction’s police chief; and
– Urban Mission Ministries represented by the Rev. Ashley Steele and Cynthia Lytle.
“All of them played a big role in my life and in the community,” Lavender said of the honorees.
The Ja’Quan Lavender Foundation: The Journey to Gold — with the Journey to Gold program established to support Great, Opportunities, Lifts, Dreams — is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that focuses on empowering youth in pursuing their hopes and dreams through professional programming and mentorship, according to its website.
“It is our vision to partner with students in middle school/high school to be empowered by embracing the skills, habits of mind, perseverance, dedication and knowledge it takes to overcome distinctive challenges that limit ethnic, racial and those of lower socio-economics and in impoverished urban areas,” it reads.
“The overarching goal is to uplift students of all ethnicities and cultures and educate them to help them develop the life skills needed to achieve their full potential and succeed in their life dreams. The students will be given tools to assist them in planning for their future and gain knowledge to internalize a mindset for their Journey to GOLD. At the end of the program those students who completed the program will receive a ‘Gold; medal to indicate their achievement. The medal serves as a reminder that they can be successful in life and to always persevere and be dedicated through hard work.”
“It’s been going on three years now, and we’re in Harding and Steubenville High School as well and planning on taking on the whole Ohio Valley as well to spread our mentorship program,” he said.
“It is for 13-18-year-old young men and women, teaching them life skills in what is a leadership development program. We’re teaching them how to be leaders for the future and for tomorrow,” Lavend-r explained of the program in place so far at Harding Middle School for seventh- and eighth-graders and Steubenville High School for freshmen through seniors.
The emphasis is to “guide these young men and woman to become prudent men and woman in life, to help them become the image God has called them to be.”
Aside from Lavender, the foundation is led by board members who include his mother, Renita Lavender, vice president; Randall Lucas, foundation adviser who also helps with the mentorship for the young men’s program; Toshchel Demus, director for the Lead-Her young woman’s program; Johnnie Geathers, director of the Lead-Him young men’s program; Andre Lee, another foundation adviser; and Shakiera Butler, personal development coach who helps out with the wellness program.
Others instrumental in the foundation’s operation are Janae Snyder and Lawrence Lewis.
Lavender, a 2014 graduate of Steubenville High School, said he and his mother started the foundation.
“We started the foundation in the spring of 2020 and then we finally got approved, got established in June of 2020. I really didn’t focus too much on the foundation because I was training for the Olympics but we still had small meetings on what I wanted to do. I wanted to give back to the community at that time but didn’t know how to do it.”
“I started giving it more attention in 2021 and then early in 2022 we saw our first partnership with Steubenville High School materialize. We have our young men and young women’s programs for ninth-graders through 12th grade, and our program is based off of leadership development,” he said. “It’s mentorship, but we are teaching them more than life skills — we’re actually preparing them for the real world because you know once they are out of high school, they have two options — to go to college or don’t go to college — so we need to prepare them for what both worlds look like, and their perspectives,” he said.
The mentoring is occurring during school hours, he noted.
In speaking to foundation goals, Lavender singled out two.
“My biggest goal for 2023 is I want to break ground and build a youth center in Steubenville,” he said. He also cited the desire to “actually spread my young men and young women’s program within different schools in the Ohio Valley.”
“My goal is to spread it — it would be nice to have a program in every school in the valley just so we won’t limit ourselves just to Steubenville because I know more kids actually need this program,” he commented.
Lavender graduated from Tiffin University with a degree in sports marketing and works as sales director for the Rivers Club in downtown Pittsburgh.
During his high school years, he was a track standout. By the time he graduated in 2014, he was the OVAC 4A Class 400 record holder, was named All Ohio five times, was a five-time state qualifier and twice was the Ohio Association of Track and Cross-Country Coaches state finalist in the 400 meter. He’s also Steubenville High School’s 400-meter indoor record holder, OHSAA state qualifier and a USATF Junior Olympian Qualifier, and holds the 400-meter record at the St. Clairsville Porterfield Invitational.
He went on to run the 200, 400 and the 4×4 relay at Point Park University before transferring in 2016 to Tiffin University, where he ran the 200, 400 and 4×4.
At 24, Lavender was working on qualifying on running the 400 meter in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“In 2019 when I was leaving college, trying to figure things out, what I was going to do, I’m always a late-night thinker, so I was sitting up late in my apartment and God had dropped the vision in my spirit and said Ja’Quan, have a foundation, so for him to drop the vision in my spirit, that means he had to equip me with everything that I need to carry forth that vision, so that’s why I believe so much in this foundation, the program, because it’s from him.
“I believe that he is still working on me, equipping me with what I need to be that example for these young men.”