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City Year Honors Nonprofit Founder Dustin LaFont

The City Year Alumni Leadership Awards, presented by Truist, are City Year’s highest alumni recognition. The awards recognize outstanding alums who have continued their commitment to service and demonstrated extraordinary achievement, contribution or commitment to advancing social justice and strengthening communities. Since 1995, 134 alumni have been honored with these awards. You can read about the 2023 award ceremony held in Boston on Feb. 8.

Alumni Achievement Award: Dustin LaFont, City Year Baton Rouge ‘11 

The 2023 City Year Alumni Leadership Awards were presented in February at City Year National Headquarters in Boston. Dustin LaFont, an educator and founder of a youth-centered nonprofit, received the Alumni Achievement Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions by an alum who served more than five years ago.

Dustin LaFont is the executive director of Front Yard Bikes (FYB), a youth workforce development program that is providing safe spaces for youth in Louisiana to learn, grow, and build.

FYB offers programs in bike mechanics, welding, urban gardening, cooking, and riding safety. FYB also provides after-school jobs for middle and high school youth who are leaders among their peers. With two after-school sites and three bike shops throughout Baton Rouge, FYB has touched the lives of more than 3,000 youth and has become one of the largest community bike shops in the South.

An educator turned nonprofit founder

LaFont received his master’s in education from Louisiana State University and taught social studies before he launched his nonprofit. He met his wife, Kim (Rick) LaFont, City Year Baton Rouge ‘11 and an East Baton Rouge teacher of the year, when they served together with City Year Baton Rouge and she presented him with his alumni award with several students he works with in the audience.

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At the award ceremony, Kim LaFont shared memories from Dustin’s colleagues and fellow corps members.

“Miss Pam Wall shared that Dustin is somehow able to live a life of faith and have a family and has still changed the life trajectory for the better for over 3,000 young people,” she said.

“And Kaelysia Cooper, City Year Baton Rouge ‘11, remembers Dustin as “the braided Cajun storyteller who always rode his bike to the office,’ Kim LaFont recalled.

“Not much has changed,” she added. “Now his story is advocacy and empowering youth in our community with technical skills and the confidence to succeed.”

Educational, workforce and recreational opportunities

Kim LaFont explained how her husband’s nonprofit, Front Yard Bikes, works.

“Through this program, students between the ages of 5 and 18 can come Monday through Thursdays to work in the bike shop to earn their own bike. Youth work hard hand-in-hand with shop mechanics to learn bicycle mechanics and maintenance as they move towards the goal of receiving their own bike to keep.”

The program has evolved into a workforce training opportunity, she said, as well as offering gardening, tutoring, cooking classes, and safety bike rides on Fridays to explore educational and recreational opportunities. Just as important, the program is available within a safe biking distance for students, she said.

FYB “creates a safe space for youth to realize their intrinsic worth, while they learn, grow, and build. That what Dustin is able to teach—hard and soft life skills to students outside the classroom. In the park and building spaces at FYB.”

The organization has helped thousands of students and more than 20 young men and women have moved into mechanical roles, Kim LaFont said.

“Dustin puts time, heart, energy, and teaching into every student he works with,” his wife said. “He serves as their counselor, mentor, and at times big brother and teacher figure.”

Honoring his family and his students

Dustin LaFont thanked his family, starting with his mother, a lifelong educator and principal, calling her his “champion.” “In every situation in which I was in a little bit of trouble, my mother always pulled me inside and said, ‘oh, don’t worry, I know you have such great things to do.’”

He also credited his faith for helping him to take on challenges. Most of all, he thanked the young people he’s met as a teacher and as executive director of FYB who have provided him with an endless source of inspiration and learning. Dustin and Kim LaFont brought five current students and one former student with them to the awards ceremony in Boston.

“I have been very fortunate over these years to work with thousands of kids,” he said, young people who showed up with their bikes even in the early days when Front Yard Bikes didn’t have nice facilities for them.

“We had to innovate and become a program that was worthy of the kids who want to show up to work with us,” Dustin LaFont recalled.

“I am completely honored that my face is recognized and I’m very thankful that City Year will put my name on the award,” he said. “But is not completely fair. To be fully transparent. I have to tell you that there are thousands of kids who made the choice every day to just show up. We gave them information, we gave them tools, and we gave them space for opportunity. But they chose to do it. They chose to take on the challenge.”

The young people he works with face many challenges. He said that some get up at 5 a.m. to take multiple buses just to get to school. They face economic hardship and tough decisions about the availability of nutritious food and question, at times, if they can even afford to stay in school or need to work more help support their families.

“I have to get credit to so many of the kids who actively show up and make that choice each and every day,” Dustin LaFont said.

“Our kids are our greatest resource and they’re our greatest problem solvers. We long realized we have to lean on them as an immediate asset to help us, to build with us and to grow with us.”

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