As the man leading a nonprofit mentoring vulnerable youth, Aje Hill preaches consistency to his mentees.
But as the man who once served time in prison for selling drugs, Hill needs consistency for himself.
And more than ever, the community needs it too.
Hill and his nonprofit, I Believe in Me, have been at the center of a multi-organization project to keep Frederick County fed during the COVID-19 pandemic by organizing food distributions at sites all over the county. On Thursday, his group of organizations and volunteers served meals to over 450 families. And over the last 16 weeks, they’ve served more than 11,000 families.
“What’s needed more than anything in a mentor program is consistency,” Hill says. “It keeps us away from the people, places and things that pull us back into the darkness. We had to show up. We can’t stay home. We need to be a beacon of action in the light.”
Founded in 2016 on the idea of selling hope to a small group of young boys, I Believe in Me has blossomed into an organization still selling hope to its young mentees, but also selling hope to all Frederick residents.
The food distributions are meant to provide residents with the food they enjoyed eating under normal circumstances before COVID-19 hit.
“I look at these people as human beings,” Hill said. “These are the same patrons who were helping our economy boom before this. But they’re also the very people with no savings accounts. And some might be going back to work, but they’re not getting 40 hours a week.”
So residents are able to pick up the meats and produce they would ordinarily have to pay for at the store. The Rescue Mission arrives at the food drop sites as well to provide additional items, Hill said, adding the Rescue Mission has been integral in ensuring donated money is spent well and goes directly to the residents.
Keeping residents’ stomachs full on the things they’re used to eating is paramount, because hunger can lead to things like depression and suicide, Hill said. Food can also be a difficult expense for residents to afford, or one that can sometimes be neglected for the sake of paying other bills.
But these food distribution events are not something Hill can do alone. He’s steadfast in sharing the credit with his community partners like the Community Foundation, United Way of Frederick County, Second Street and Hope, Strong Tower Christian Church among others.
“Our great community has stepped up to help us provide these critical grocery needs,” Hill said. “There’s so many wonderful people that have recognized the need.”
But for Hill, getting the partners can be the easy part. After all, he’s an expert salesman, and he’s selling a product that’s much easier to buy into than the “poison” he once did. He’s selling hope and working to be a beacon of light for a community where he once brought darkness.
That starts with showing up.
“Once you become consistent, people start to depend on you,” he says. “And now you don’t want to let them down. I don’t expect this to slow down.
“So we’ll keep being there.”