As the 2011/12 school year came to a close, so did the drawdowns on a 3 year Office for Justice and Juvenile Delinquency grant that John Williams, the founder of Life that Counts, was a part of. Seeing the impact he was able to be part of and realizing the need for ongoing and continuous Positive Youth Development solutions for schools, in spite of budgetary restrictions and the life cycle of grant funding, the dream to forge Life that Counts began.
John first registered the name, Life that Counts, under new businesses in the state of Tennessee in May 2012. However, the need to provide for the livelihood and well-being of his family led him back into youth work through other community support organizations in Nassau Bahamas for the summer of that year and South Carolina. In 2014, he had the opportunity to move his wife and two boys back to their home state to be more close to both his and her parents who were beginning to experience some major health issues in their aging years.
Upon arriving back in Alabama, John quickly went to work through his current role by reaching out to local high school principals and offering to voluntarily provide the positive youth development model of peer-to-peer mentoring. For two years, completely unfunded and only as a community stakeholder, John led weekly mentor training sessions and weekly mentor/mentee groups sessions at a local high school. During this time, he developed the B.E.L.I.E.V.E. Curriculum which he later put to form and co-wrote with his wife, Alexis, who is a Nationally Board Certified Educator holding a post graduate degree in Curriculum and Instruction.
During late-February of 2016, John received a message from an old friend and grant director, Elycia Cook of Friends First. At that time, Elycia invited John to be a part of a new Office for Justice and Juvenile Delinquency Prevention grant that they would be writing on and submitting at the end of May 2016. At this time, John had received a role in the community serving Chick-fil-A in Relationships and Marketing. As a caveat, John was able to negotiate being able to serve schools with PYD as a part of his job description.
Entering the summer of 2016, John and his wife, Alexis, began to feel very strongly that it was time for him to take the leap and lead Life that Counts in a full-time capacity. Some community funding was in place, and the possibility of the multi-state OJJDP grant with Elycia felt like an unrealized reality. Having worked out an exit strategy Randy, the area’s franchisee with Chick-fil-A, John and Alexis begin to prep for what this world of leading a nonprofit might look like.
During that same summer, John received a message from a lady in the community who had taken special interest in Life that Counts through some of the media coverage that the young organization had garnered. John met Lauren Moore at, you guessed it, Chick-fil-A, and they began to work out the details of how she could join the efforts and help increase the impact.
Along this same time, one of John’s former students, Colin Wright, finished his undergrad in Project Managment and Accounting from the University of North Alabama. Colin came on board almost immediately to help keep the books straight and the finances in order.
As the 2016/17 school year started in August, John and Lauren worked as if funding were already in place. Word on whether the OJJDP funding was to be awarded or not was not expected until October 1, a couple of months later.
“We had to get going with or without it,” John says. “if we would’ve waited, we would not have had time to get all the sessions in for the students and be true to fidelity for the curriculum.”
August quickly turned into September, and September brought with it the challenges of a decreasing bottom line in the organization’s checking account. This was slowly becoming a trying reality for John, as he truly felt like he was exactly in the spot he was supposed to be in doing exactly what he was doing. So, he pressed on, never allowing the reality of the checking account to impact his influence in schools and the community.
On the very last Thursday in September 2016, John received a call from Elycia informing him that they had been awarded the OJJDP grant. While the grant took some time for drawdowns to be actualized (the first reimbursement was received on January 24, 2017), Life that Counts had officially gone from an idea to a legitimate 501(C)(3) organization, complete with a board of directors and by-laws, with it’s first three years of funding to provide services to the same school that John had been serving without a program budget with a dedicated salary for the past couple of years.
During those first two years, Life that Counts was able to help the pilot school experience unprecedented outcomes in the school’s history. For the first time, using the curriculum that John was building as he went, the school experienced a decrease in discipline referrals by over 96% (from 49 per month to 2). The school of roughly 350 students also experienced a dramatic increase in attendance. Over the previous decade, the school historically finished last place in attendance or next to it. At the end of May 2016, the school’s principal, Mr. Jimmy Collins, reported that attendance had jumped to first place in the district. It was later decided that a %0.01 margin had actually separated them from first place by another school. With these outcomes, Mr. Collins reported that the school also yielded higher than normal test scores across every grade level. The only difference in this pilot school and the other schools in the county was the presence of Life that Counts and their Peer2Peer Positive Youth Development model.
During the summer of 2017, John Williams was invited to speak at the Department of Education’s annual MEGA Conference on “ReEnvisioning Youth Culture.” Immediately following, he spoke at the State of Florida’s Character Camp at the University of Tampa, then provided workshops for the University of Alabama.
The 2017/18 school year brought with it a more strategic and systematic approach to growing the breadth, width, and depth of the impact of Life that Counts. The organization not only continued providing year round solutions for local schools, bringing on new schools in addition to the pilot, but the year also saw it’s organizations founder speaking to more schools, students, administrators, faculty, and community stakeholders in California, Washington, New York, Florida, South Dakota, Georgia, while simultaneously reaching more communities in Alabama. After the February 2018 school tragedy in Parkland, FL, John visited the state multiple times speaking on “How to Stop a School Shooter” with CrossAge Peer2Peer at heart of what a viable solution can look like in creating healthy, authentic, and organic youth communities.
Also during this time, John recruited Jerry Smith, a local businessman who had achieved success in the entrepreneurial space, to leverage his knowledge and expertise of strategy and finance in helping keep Life that Counts fiducially prudent and poised to serve at a greater capacity.
Realizing the global need to include the full spectrum of the community in rallying behind the efforts of the work of Life that Counts, John took his message to platforms like that of One Million Cups in multiple locations and The Human Gathering, held annually in Malibu, CA, where he shared the stage with Dr. Drew Pinsky, formerly of MTV’s Love Line, and Tom Bilyeu, founder of Quest Nutrition.
When asked what does the future hold for Life that Counts, John says:
“We’re not an organization built on hype or pomp and circumstance. It’s been written that those who have the ability to affect positive change and outcome in the world have the responsibility to affect positive change and outcome in the world. We had that responsibility. If we are not experiencing prominent outcomes on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, it’s only because we didn’t show up to work. We have a role to play, and to a degree, the future of our country’s youth population depends on us fulfilling our responsibility.”
This guy interacts great with the students and really meets them on their level. His message is challenging and relevant.
Whatever you have to do, get this guy in front of your students.
"In one day John has had a profound effect on my life and future. I'm learning to live intentional with my loved ones." Feedback after attending a University of Alabama "HERO Training" Event for Professionals