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AARP AARP States Illinois

Creating the Good: A Father Who Turned Loss Into Hope

The following is part of a series of stories which will run in conjunction with an exciting new weekly radio program by AARP Illinois. The weekly program, called "Creating the Good," showcases the stories of inspiring older adults in Illinois, and can be heard statewide on affiliates of the Illinois Radio Network.


Shemuel Sanders suffered a tragic loss in June when his daughter, Shamilah, became the victim of a fatal shooting in their hometown of Decatur, Illinois. Sanders, who often served as an informal mentor to youth in the Decatur middle school where he works, felt compelled, now more than ever, to do more.

“I never want another parent to have to feel what I’m feeling,” says Sanders, who does landscaping work during the summers, “so I started small – pulling a few young men into my landscaping work and paying them for their time.” That is how the seeds of Shemilah’s Outreach Center were sown.


Once the community heard about what Sanders was doing, his phone wouldn’t stop ringing with calls from parents and young men who wanted to be involved. His landscaping program, which started with 10 young men, quickly grew to 70 – the maximum number of participants that donations to the program could support. For a month, the men did two hours of landscaping a day, had a meal together and heard from male role models who Sanders invited to speak to the group.

Now that the young men are back in school, Sanders is focused on helping them navigate e-learning. With the help of retired teachers who are tutoring the students both virtually and in-person at a small space Sanders has secured, he is reaching dozens of youth who are struggling outside of a traditional school setting.

“These are kids who have parents that work all day and there are some kids without Wi-Fi, so it really comes down to identifying what their individual needs are and making sure they make the most out of this school year,” he says.

Sanders has a clear vision and big plans for scaling the program to include many more young men and women in the community.

“I’ve had to turn youth away, and that kills me,” says Sanders. “I believe I could easily reach 1000 youth with the community’s support – there is that much need for this work.”

To learn more or find out ways you can support Shemilah’s Outreach Center, visit

And to find volunteer opportunities in your community, visit

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