Durham Woman Empowers Teens to Shape their own Futures

Some students from the POOF Center on a group trip to YMCA Camp Seafarer this past summer. The students were each paid $150 to help with meal prep for the weekend. September 2023, in Arapahoe, NC. (Photo by Destiny Alexander)

Thursday, Feb. 28, 2024

By Courtney Fisher

In East Durham, one woman has taken it upon herself to provide a space to empower teens through real-world training and experiences. The POOF Center has a unique mission that goes far beyond the average after-school program.

“POOF is a double acronym that stands for ‘Planning our Own Futures/Planning our Own Funerals,’” said founder, owner and director Destiny Alexander. “Don’t let the word ‘funerals’ scare you. We teach funerals in terms of legacy, not tragedy.”

The POOF Center is an after-school program open Monday through Thursday for teens ages 13-17 that aims to provide them with the life knowledge and skills to succeed outside of a strictly educational context.

“I would say we’re an entrepreneurship pathway program,” said Alexander. “Everything here is real life.”

Alexander was born and raised in East Durham, and her inspiration for POOF came from a desire to give back to the community where she was raised.

“Everyone knows I love Durham and I love this area,” said Alexander. “It was important for me to come back to a community that was kind of terrible when I was younger.”

Alexander was also inspired to start the center to prevent her son from developing the same mindset that landed his father in prison. 

“Statistically, my son had a higher chance of going to prison because his father was in prison, and I knew I had to figure out how to overcome those barriers,” said Alexander. 

Alexander worked hard to instill the values of hard work and personal responsibility in her son that would eventually serve as the foundation of the POOF program. Her son went on to earn a full ride to UNC-Chapel Hill, where he’s now a senior..

“I consider my son the first return on my investment,” said Alexander. “I thought, well, if I can do it with him, and I can put my foot in a lot of the kids’ shoes that go through the system, why can’t I start something to help them in a safe space?”

Alexander started a company called Photobooth Therapy in 2020 to start making money to support her vision. In two years, she was able to make enough money to make her dream a reality, and POOF. opened its doors in 2022.

Since then, POOF has provided resources and a safe space for teens from eight different schools in the area. 

“Our mission is to find kids that want to do something wonderful and great while dismantling labels,” said Alexander. 

As an entrepreneurship pathway program focused on developing real-world skills, POOF emphasizes three pillars of financial literacy, world travel and life preparation. Students can also use the center’s resources to start their own businesses and make money, like salons and stuffed animal-making businesses.

“My biggest goal and dream and desire is for us to self-sustain,” said Alexander. “We’re teaching the kids how to make enough money that we bring in enough revenue to pay for the space and to keep going and bringing other kids in… and not depend so much on grants and donations.”

The center operates as a nonprofit organization, reflecting Alexander’s commitment to providing a safe environment for teens to learn and grow. Alexander has funded most of the center completely by herself but has learned to accept help from others when offered.

“I can’t do it all by myself financially, and I always encourage people to donate,” said Alexander. “They can see exactly what we do.”

Alexander hopes that teens will emerge from the program well-equipped to have a positive impact on their community. 

“Community-wise, as long as the kids are coming here and changing their mindset, they go back into the school system and set the standard for a good vibe in the schools,” said Alexander. “This lessens the crime rate because they have this different mindset, and that’s what I hope to do through POOF.”

Edited by Ava Dobson