04/25/06 — Program to match boys with mentors

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Program to match boys with mentors

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 25, 2006 1:47 PM

Eugene Hines grew up in Wilson, the only male in a six-female household. Since he lacked a father figure, his grandmother steered him to the Boys Club even before he was old enough to join.

"I was 6 years old, too young to become a member," he said, noting the age requirement at that time was 7 years old. "I went every day and stood outside on the porch until they let me in."

Persistence paid off. He stayed active until he was a teen. While friends took different paths, Hines said he knew there was something else for him.

"I stayed positive. The Boys Club was my outlet," he said.

Around the age of 12 or 13, he met a young man who had been a Big Brother to one of Hines' friends.

"There was about five of us, he saw something in us. This man took us under his wing, obviously saw something in us. He took us to church, guided us in the right direction," he said. "He was like one of the first ones who started to come see us in these activities we were in."

In 1989, the man told them he was going to Goldsboro to launch a mentoring program for youths like them.

That is not to say that Hines never veered off the straight and narrow. In high school, he fathered a child, postponing college before deciding to become the person he knew he was supposed to be, "but only because of the direction I had been steered when I was growing up," he says now.

Two months ago, he was hired to work as a program director with Smart Choices for Youth Inc., the program his role model had left to form more than 15 years ago.

"I'm here today, working for the same man that was my mentor when I was 13 years old," Hines said.

That man is Daryl Woodard, executive director of Smart Choices, formerly Wayne County Youth Outreach. But Woodard is quick to explain that he didn't hire Hines because he knew him.

"I hired him because of his compassion and passion and the education he came with," he said. "He had to go through the same process of employment. I believe in him but I wanted my board to believe in him."

Woodard shakes his head at the irony.

"When he was 12 -- and now he's almost 30 -- I never thought in a million years that we were going to work together," he said. "I didn't come to him because he could hire me. I grew up in the same neighborhood that a lot of them are in; I had to deal with a lot of things that they had to deal with. I don't say I'm overqualified, but I'm qualified because I can relate to them and I can understand," he said.

His qualifications go beyond the social work degree he earned last May from Elizabeth City State University. He has also defied some modern-day statistics, Woodard said.

"To compare, you have more African-American males on probation, parole and in prison that you do in college," Woodard said. "The numbers get even slimmer when you say they graduate from college.

"Eugene Hines beat all the statistics of African-Americans. He's never been incarcerated, got an accredited degree, now is a productive member of society. Those are the things we're trying to do. Mentors reach out and help these kids.

Which makes Hines a ideal to have in place as Woodard introduces his latest drive to enlist the help of "60 Mentors in 60 Days," begun April 17 and running until June 17.

May marks the two-year anniversary since the program's former home, the community building, burned down. With summertime approaching, Woodard says there is less and less for youths to do, especially in the downtown area.

"We need to have these (mentors) in place so as soon as school is out, we can match these people," he said. "All is takes is time."

Some of the most successful people are not the smartest, but they made smart choices, Woodard said. It's important for adults to step up to the challenge to ensure that youths get the guidance to do that.

"We're concentrating not so much on raising $60,000, but in raising 60 people who want to stand up and make a difference in the life of a child in Wayne County," he said. "When we start talking about statistics, all of us are at-risk of something. If we don't have anybody in our lives to guide us and challenge us, and to correct us when we're wrong, mentors are there to be there for them and guide them."

Felix Ashford of Goldsboro, retired military with grown children, said he became a mentor after learning that an elderly couple in his church had done the same. With more and more youths lacking a father figure in the home, he said he wanted to be part of the solution.

"One reason I wanted to come in and help is because I got tired of people saying it's the schools' fault. It starts at home. What kids see their parents doing is how they react," he said.

"They need that discipline and some man to tell them what to do and help them use their ideas that they have in their heads. A lot of them have good ideas but there's no one to put those ideas to the test."

Matched with a 15-year-old young man since last June, Ashford said he has enjoyed the experience and has seen a difference.

"The one that I mentor had problems with his grades. The thing that's good now is he's come from Cs and Ds to As and Bs. He walks around happy because he's not interrupted in class," he said.

Woodard hopes others will take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with area youths. In turn, they, too, might one day find the fruits of their labor have paid off, he said.

Recalling his own seed-planting days working with youths in Wilson, he said he had made promises to stay in contact with them and to their mothers that he would look out for their sons.

"Back 30, 40, 50 years ago, everybody was basically living in the same neighborhood all their lives," he said. "Folks move a lot now. So this is why mentors are important; they're a steady person in the life of their child.

"Having a mentor there when they have to change schools or a parent is incarcerated, or just in the summer when there's nothing to do, makes all the difference."

Free mentor trainings are being scheduled at a variety of locations. To learn more, call 735-0008.