Reciprocity is at the heart of the mentoring program that has developed between Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Tarrant County Eastside Branch’s Club kids and teens from the nearby Young Men’s Leadership Academy (YMLA).
It all began when YMLA’s facilities were under construction, and Eastside’s branch director offered up the Club’s gym space for the school’s basketball teams to use for practice. From there, Club staff and YMLA coaches continued to explore and leverage each other’s resources. YMLA’s greatest asset, their students, proved to be exactly what the Club needed. Darius Ford, captain of the varsity basketball team and four-year Club member, led the initiative to craft a program that encapsulated the Club’s three core program areas: academic success, positive character and leadership, and healthy lifestyles.
"We started the mentoring program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Tarrant County’s Eastside Branch to have a positive impact in the community,” said Darius, who is a senior. “We wanted to do something to get involved with the Stop 6 community, and we chose to build a connection with Boys & Girls Clubs.”
YMLA students and coaches decided to cancel basketball practices on Wednesday evenings and instead spend time with Club members. Club staff identified Club members that were in need of guidance and paired them with outstanding members of the YMLA basketball teams. The student-led program quickly proved worthwhile for both Club members and the YMLA teens. As Club members opened up about emotional and academic struggles, the teens found they could identify the boys and support them in dealing with difficult situations.
“It’s hard being a young minority male living in a low socioeconomic, poverty-stricken neighborhood where sometimes we don’t have the resources that other students may be exposed to,” said Darius. “The kids always brighten up our moods, make us laugh, and teach us about ourselves as we are also teaching them.”
The partnership doesn’t stop at the Wednesday evening sessions. Club kids support their mentors by cheering them on during home and away basketball games. Similarly, YMLA teens spend additional time investing in the futures of their mentees through special academic events. Last month, YMLA and the Club partnered with STEM NOLA to expose minority students to the process of designing, building, testing, and racing their own cars using Newton’s Laws Of Motion.
"The mentoring program gives our younger members something to look forward to every week,” said Ricquel Archer, Eastside Branch Director. “The accountability and trust built through this program has improved members' attitudes towards adversity and the classroom. I have watched the mentors grow in leadership from leading literacy programs to discussions about their home lives and neighborhoods."
Ricquel said she has seen “major attitude improvement” in the young boys who are paired with mentors. The partnership has also increased teen membership at the Club, as all of the mentors are now registered members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Tarrant County.
“Mentoring has influenced the basketball team, and it’s something we hope to continue to do and build a legacy through it,” said Darius. “It’s a mutual relationship between mentors and mentees and the shared experiences are memorable and will be implanted in their minds as well as ours forever. The program has helped me grow a lot as an individual and made me want to aspire to help children beyond high school. I hope one day to impact my community and reverse the cycle of poverty to help students and create better opportunities and lifestyles for students in Fort Worth.”