Since opening its residential facility in 1994, Boys Hope Girls Hope has helped Baton Rouge youth overcome dysfunction at home to achieve success. But, while pleased with the results, supporters knew the program’s design severely limited the number who could be helped.
Not any more.
In the summer, Boys Hope Girls Hope launched “Road to Excellence,” which offers after-school tutoring and enrichment opportunities for middle school and high school students who continue to live at home. About 50 students are participating, a number BHGH Executive Director John Daniel hopes to quadruple in a couple of years.
“There is still a need for a residential service for many of our kids, but there is a greater need to have a non-residential service to reach those young people who aren’t getting that extra they need to assure that they can graduate from college and have the soft skills necessary to make it through a career,” Daniel said.
Daniel, who began his current role Nov. 1, 2013, introduced the concept locally based on programs he saw while serving as vice president for Father Flanagan’s Boys Town national operations from 2000-04. Board members quickly embraced it.
“You have this gap,” said board member Carl Redman, who retired as executive editor at The Advocate last year. “You have kids who are capable that don’t have the background at home for that little push that gets them where they need to be. The kids at the top, you don’t need to worry about them. The kids at the bottom, there’s a huge safety net out there.
“There is not a kid in this program that’s not going to graduate from high school. That’s a given. That’s not a big deal. But for a lot of them, they may or may not be able to take that next step into college and successfully navigate college. … Those are the kids I’m really interested in.”
Twenty participants attend Baton Rouge Magnet High School, 20 more are at McKinley High School, and a handful of others are at other East Baton Rouge Parish Schools, Daniel said.
Although tutoring is one component, “Road to Excellence” offers access to all programs normally offered to students living in the Boys Hope Girls Hope home. It exposes participants to skills, like public speaking, they can carry into adulthood; offers confidence-building activities like karate; encourages STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum; provides community service opportunities; and introduces them to business and community leaders.
“I really like that, because those are people I want to talk to because they may give me some information on what I can do to get where they are and get a job I actually enjoy doing,” said Cheridan Sanders, a Baton Rouge Magnet High School sophomore.
Rick Bourgeois, vice president of Malco Theatres, has been involved with BHGH since its local beginnings, and he recently visited a public speaking class to invite students to bowl for free at the annual “Bowl for Hope” fundraiser Oct. 4-5 at Circle Bowl.
East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office Capt. Rodney Walker also spoke to the class and offered the flip side of the program’s importance — the more he sees students participating in something positive, the less likely he’ll see them at crime scenes. There is no shortage of those in neighborhoods where many of the students live, a vicious cycle the program seeks to break.
“Without any hope, there’s no future,” Walker said.
The program’s scope will depend on getting other organizations involved with volunteers and resources, Daniel said. With enough community participation, “Road to Excellence” might grow to 100 students by mid-2015, and double again in another year. Already, a number of business and political leaders — including State Reps. Sharon Weston Broome and Regina Barrow, and Metro Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards — are involved. The Southern University Law Center is providing mentors and involvement in moot court competitions.
“We need as much community engagement as possible to change the game,” Daniel said.