LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – As the new school year begins for students around mid-Michigan, one non-profit is working to give kids the tools they need to navigate the classrooms and hallways without turning to violence.

Community leaders with The Village Lansing are taking the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” to heart by giving a safe space for kids to connect and get help.

Recently, the group held its first youth academy that worked to give students the skills needed to start the school year off right.

“They help you get out of your shell and they help you feel welcomed at stuff,” said Pierris Williams, the Villiage Youth Academy student.

11-year-old Williams was one of several students taking part in the Village Lansing’s first youth academy. The non-profit’s two-week class is geared towards middle and high school students to help teach them skills from conflict resolution and budgeting to first aid and gun safety.

Williams said classes like these are empowering.

“I felt prepared and I feel like I could help others and inform others who don’t know. It really made me look at things more differently,” she said.

Michael Lynn Jr. is co-founder of the Village Lansing, and he said the academy stems from the idea that preventative action and lessons should help steer youth toward a better path.

“We know young people are going to do certain things, they’re going to be involved in certain things, around certain things so we want them to have the best understanding about the ramifications of things that happen,” he said. “These are tools that they may leave here thinking it’s a joke and it’s all fun and games but someday they may come into a position where they need this and they’ll be able to act on it.”

Lynn said teaching about how to deal with police interactions and first aid gave students a clearer perspective of the real world.

Connor Holguin graduated from the Lansing School District in 2021, she said the academy allowed her to give back to her community by teaching new generations things she wished she had known.

“Whether I’ve been in the position they’ve been exactly or not, I know somebody that has. So to be able to give back now that I’m in a position to its really important,” she said.

Volunteers with the Village Lansing said plan to offer the academy again in the summer and are looking into a possible winter session as well.

As the school year starts up for area schools, volunteers are now opening the youth center from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday through Friday.