Motivational speaker and leadership development coach Mar Butler, founder of TREE Leadership, conducts a workshop for students at risk. – Photo courtesy of TREE Leadership


(The Dallas Examiner) – Despite the technological advancements of today, many communities still struggle to make ends meet. Studies have shown that a lack of education can lead to poverty, which can lead to preventable health problems and/or criminal activity.

Dallas has the highest number of people living 185% below the poverty line of any city in America. It has the second highest number of people living 100% below the poverty line –Philadelphia has the highest, according to statistics from Buckner International, a local nonprofit ministry helping those in need.

This means 38% of Dallas children live in poverty and 28% of them have inadequate food and nutrition.

TREE Leadership, a local organization founded by motivational speaker and leadership development coach Mar Butler in September 2022, hopes to tackle this issue and help those who live in underserved communities thrive and overcome hardships. 

As CEO, Butler said his company uses a two-tier program to help reduce negative behaviors associated with low socioeconomic status. 

“TREE Leadership provides practical solutions to adolescents and young adults aged 12 to 25 to reduce the risks of crime, poverty and recidivism that reside in low socioeconomic areas of Dallas,” he said. 

The word TREE in this regard stands for Truth, Restore, Empower and Evolve. Butler said the goals are to create integrity, accountability, healing servitude and inclusion to youth and young adults. 

“It is a year-round community leadership development organization targeted toward those ages 12 to 25 years old who are considered at risk by living in underserved or marginalized communities,” he said. 

“It offers real evidence based packages and programs to create an ecosystem that will incorporate other organizations and local community leaders to build a brand with a support that will help prevent the pipeline to prison narrative, especially the nuances of violent crime, poverty and recidivism.”

He explained that the organization’s program works through integrating and partnering with organizations that help students achieve goals in life. 

“We have branch affiliates that we have where we actually engage communities through teaching facilitation programs going into the neighborhoods and dealing with their local community educational systems,” Butler stated. “We look at park data, parking recreations, and we implement programs that can identify with the children that are ages 12 to 17 and 18 to 25. We implement these programs to connect with them in a mental and emotional development phase. And while they are doing that, we incorporate the parents or members of their household as well by providing wraparound resources. All of this is to mainly provide the support that they need to provide alternatives to the life altering decisions that they have been previously making because of a virus.”

The program includes courses such as the Coming of Age kit, which is a program that fills the void for youth ages 12 to 25 years old who grew up in single-family or no-parent households located in disenfranchised communities. 

In this course, the kit focuses on such topics as: taking pride in one’s appearance, self-perception and self-expression, conflict management, planning ahead Financial Education 101 and 201, positive affirmations and self-reflection.

Butler decided to start the organization after serving as program director for a violence interrupters team that was contracted by the city of Dallas. 

“So that was a forum for us to reduce violence through intervention, and after completing that contract, we then focused on another way to provide prevention endpoints in preventative measures to address individuals in order to combat the nuances that lead to this particular crowd because we don’t want them to lead down that path,” Butler said. “So in discontinuing the path that has been to combat the prison to pipeline, we came up with the Tree Leadership organization.”

Butler said they reach clients by doing a pre and post survey. 

“We are definitely targeting individuals who are as I stated before children of incarcerated parents, we look for people who have received government assistance living in low income households, people that have experience maybe some criminal background history or experience, even though they are going to academic institution or educational institution, but they live in impoverished or underserved communities,” he said. “These are the ones we have targeted that exemplify the highest percentage of entering the school to prison pipeline, and those are the places where we target once we target particular programs that reach out to them. We have particular packages and to make the introduction that gets them involved.”

Not only does the nonprofit work with students, but with their families as well. 

“We have what we call a social working piece, which is we do a needs assessment,” he said. “And then we do a success strategy component within the program. What we’re doing is reaching out to them because none of our programs are less than six weeks, none of them. Because we want to build a relationship and really retain them. So while we’re doing that, it provides us enough time to actually do what needs assessment and success strategy, to where now we know from the information that has been provided, we know exactly not just what they need, but what their family members need, right.”

“And so we’re able to pair that with our community partners who are able to do their social work and provide the therapy, provide the counseling or whatever resources that they may need, clothing, transportation, workforce development job, I mean, we name it. So we have a plethora of resources that can help us to provide wraparound support, not just for the participants, but for their family members as well within the household. Because our whole overall objective is to build a sustainable relationship as these participants began to progress later on in life for the better.”

TREE Leadership will celebrate its one year anniversary in the fall. It has served more than 100 individuals within the last year. 

“We are looking to serve more because we will begin our summer project on July 1,” he stated. “So once that kicks in, it is really seasonal.”

Diane Xavier received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Texas A&M University in 2003. She has been a journalist for over 20 years covering everything from news, sports, politics and health....

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