Skip and Sonia DuPree, the compassionate hearts and savvy brains behind END IT! (“Everybody’s Not Doing It!”), first met while attending Savannah State University. After graduation, they relocated to Jacksonville for work. Skip started his career in Sales and finance and Sonia went to work for IBM as a computer programmer. Along the way, they got married, started a family and moved to Port Saint Lucie for Skip's job. It was here, in June 2010, where the inspiration struck and Skip and Sonia embarked on a journey to change lives and provide a much needed service for the community.
"Sonia envisioned the whole thing," Skip said. "I actually discovered a paper on her desk with the words 'END IT' written on it. It included an overview of what the program would look like. When I asked her about it, she said it was a vision of hers and something she wanted to pursue when she retired. Being much more energetic at the time, I said, 'Let's do it now'. With her vision and my business background, I knew we could do something special."
Sonia shared where that original spark of inspiration first originated. "We have three daughters," she said. "Our oldest hit middle school and we started to see all the pressures that young ladies have to deal with. Things like body image, self esteem and bullying really affect young women. It felt like the values we were teaching her ran counter to what she heard in the media. That age group is hard and I knew there were more girls like her that wanted to do the right thing. That's where the concept came from."
At the time, Sonia was still working as a programmer for IBM. The passion for END IT and the opportunity to help teens navigate such a difficult time in their lives overtook the monetary benefits of programming. "Sonia was told before she went to college not to be a teacher because she wasn't going to make money," Skip said. "She did programming for 15 years only to find out she really wanted to teach. He continued to say, 'Don't chase the money. If you're doing what you're meant to do, the money will eventually chase you'."
According to Skip and Sonia, END It! is focused on preventing at-risk behaviors in pre-teens and teens by providing education, inspiration and positive alternatives through the arts. The goal was to create a program that would be fun and one that allowed kids to use their creativity for something good while helping their communities.
"We have an after-school program, a summer program, we offer classes in the performing arts, graphic design, digital media, painting and traditional art and music for middle and high school students," Sonia shared. "Everything we do is infused with preventive education as far as character development. All of our performances are original and have to do with topics that affect the community and our kids. We tackle things like violence, bullying, sex trafficking and other serious issues."
Despite having clear goals, funding and a successful track record of positively impacting the lives of South Florida teens, Skip and Sonia faced many challenges when they first launched nearly ten years ago. One particular challenge, a lack of capital, was tackled with persistence and by tapping into Sonia's creative side.
"In the beginning, we had very little funding," Sonia said. "We had to borrow things from churches, the city would let us use different spaces and we used our garage to store props and costumes. I ended up writing a play called, 'Daddy', about child sex trafficking, that received a tremendous amount of attention. We sold out the first weekend and were featured on the news and in newspapers. It also got the attention of St. Lucie County Children's Services Council. That connection eventually led to us receiving year round funding from them."
When speaking with Skip and Sonia, it's crystal clear the love and passion they have for helping kids. Their enjoyment of what they do is on a level not experienced by many entrepreneurs. In a world plagued with greed and, in some unfortunate situations, malice and harmful intent, these two social entrepreneurs represent hope and inspiration for the next generation.
"I thoroughly enjoy understanding and working with young people on the things they're dealing with," Skip said. "It's so rewarding to be able to give them information and support and to help them walk through life. On Friday nights, we speak with the youth in gender specific environments. Sonia will take the girls and I'll take the boys. This allows for more open dialogue about things impacting each gender. It's really cool to see them utilizing our teachings and embracing our principles. Many of our students have gone on to do great things."
Sonia added, "I really enjoy building quality relationships with the youth. They're all struggling with things. They may look grown, but they're still children. Many of them are just dealing with grown folks stuff. I also really enjoy talking to them about 'truths'. They need to know that money is not everything and that celebrities are not all that. I always tell them that talent can take you to where you want to go, but character will keep you there. We help them focus on their self-esteem, build self confidence and to work on helping other people."
Looking ahead, Skip and Sonia, who are currently in the middle of their first year as a 'full service' program, are extremely excited and optimistic about the future of END IT!. They're focused on creating a model that can be duplicated in other cities across Florida. Their ultimate goal is to take the program nationwide.
Skip and Sonia, who are constantly giving great advice to teens and pre-teens, also have some prudent advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "Count your costs," Skip said. "Know what it costs to start your business, but also know what else you have to give up. When it comes to non-profits, it's not the life of the rich and famous. It's a calling. It's also important to have wise counsel around you and to consider the right partnerships. Be careful of people that will take away from your mission or of those that might want to change your mission. Operate with integrity and maintain the true purpose and mission of your program. We pride ourselves on that. When you do find success, establish a measuring stick as a way to track that success. Lastly, a lot of times, when it looks like the end of the road, that's when things change. We almost tapped out at one point, but then things started to change for the better."
Sonia added, "Make sure you're in it for the right reasons. Like Skip pointed out earlier, If you're where you're supposed to be, the money will chase you."