Chris Olivarez, one of our youth development professionals met Frank when he was in 8th grade. Frank was struggling in school and had barely passing grades. Frank is from a single parent home. His mother only speaks Spanish and cannot really help him with his homework, at least thatís what he reports.
For several months Frank just hung out around the club. Later he told us it was just to watch the girls. Chris took him under his wing and coaxed him into joining the club. Chris even paid his $5.00 membership to make sure Frank would not be told to leave by security or school staff. Chris and Frank became closer friends over time. Chris learned that Frank was drinking and wanted to smoke Marijuana because he thought it was cool. Unfortunately, he was beginning to follow in his brotherís footsteps, drinking and taking drugs. We later learned that Frank was also cutting himself and doing other things to inflict pain on his body.
Frank was very close to being kicked out of school, due to his constant trips to homework completion (a kind of study hall, detention) and a generally disrespectful attitude toward his teachers and peers. At the end of the school year 2008, Chris invited Frank to join our mentor program since Chris wanted to help Frank in a big way. Chris saw Frank as a bright individual who just needed some positive guidance in life. Frank and Chris exchanged phone numbers, and Chris kept in contact with him all last summer.
As a result of regular contact with a caring adult, during this past school year, Frankís grades improved. He does not drink nor does he want to do drugs. He is doing better in his classes and has fewer trips to homework completion. Frank is no longer a candidate for expulsion, nor is he cutting himself.
Frank has changed so much. He is more involved with the club. He comes every day and helps out with the younger club members. He says he wants to be a good role model for younger kids and mentor them, especially those who may face the same problems he did.
Chris did not really know that his contact with Frank was the turning point with him and had made such a big difference in changing Frankís behavior until Frankís mother came to the club, sought out Chris and told him. She said, ďI donít know what you guys talk about or what you do, but I thank you because Frank is a different person since you offered your time to my son.Ē
Frank has also attended all of our Smart Moves Lessons and is currently in the Smart Leaders program. (These are character education and leadership development programs with prevention messages for prevention of alcohol and drug abuse and conflict resolution.) This coming school year he will assist Chris with instructing Smart Start Lessons with our younger groups.
Chris still calls Frank every Friday night to make sure he isnít doing anything risky or dangerous with his mind or body. Frank has a passion for music. So with his motherís permission, of course, Chris has taken Frank to local concerts and shopping for New Music CDís. Frank has also begun music lessons, and is now playing the guitar.
Chris and Frank share a special bond. Chris has even said when he decides to part from the club when he graduates, he will continue to keep up with Frank for as long as Frank needs him to. (Chris is a college student and is such an excellent role model and mentor for Frank.) Frank is already looking forward to his future and is beginning to think about where he would like to attend college. Frank will participate in our Junior Staff program this summer, and earn the community service credits he needs to graduate high school.*
To volunteer to mentor an at risk student, please call the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen, 956-682-5791 or visit, www.begreatmcallen.org.
Laura Reagan-Porras is a sociologist and the Chief Professional Officer of the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen. She can be reached for comment or questions at email@example.com.
* BGC Unit Director, Cassie Montalvo assisted in developing this edition of the column.