Donaldsonville — An FBI agent, longtime health care administrator and the mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish encouraged fifth-grade boys at Lowery Elementary School to listen to their teachers, work hard in school and stay out of trouble.
The speakers were part of the Young Men of Character mentoring program Friday at the school.
Program organizer and mentor Renard Southall said the program is designed to provide mentors to young boys and teach them about character. At the end of the program, the first student to correctly name the six pillars of character — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship — received a $5 prize.
The program started about five years ago at Pecan Grove Primary School in Gonzales, said Young Men of Character co-founder Richard Brown. Brown said the program’s goal is to prevent problems and stress education.
Brown said a group of mentors visit with the children at least once a month, bringing in speakers to talk about how they became successful. They also take the students on field trips and provide a golf lesson.
Tim Riley, another mentor with the program, said the students are encouraged to wear ties and dress clothes on meeting days “to dress for success.”
The program has grown to several schools including one in Assumption Parish.
During Friday’s program, Deron F. Ogletree, a supervisory special agent with the FBI, talked about growing up between two “gang neighborhoods” in Chicago plagued with drive-by shootings and drug-dealing in the 1970s and ’80s.
Ogletree said many of his classmates died because of the violence in the city.
Ogletree said his father, a Chicago police officer, was strict and warned him to stay away from street corners where drug dealers would ply their trade. He said he kept out of trouble by doing constructive things like cutting grass and removing snow from neighbors’ lawns.
He encouraged the students to stay away from areas “where you know there might be trouble.”
The FBI agent said he’s living his dream to work for the FBI and told the students, “You can live your dream, too, but you need to always keep doing something constructive.”
Recently retired hospital administrator George Bell said the students should determine their strengths and interests and work toward a career with those talents in mind.
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Melvin “Kip” Holden talked about his childhood growing up in a house without running water and not a lot of clothes to wear.
“My parents would fight like cats and dogs,” he said.
His father worked two jobs to support his five children.
Holden said he worked hard in school “so I wouldn’t be like them.”
He encouraged the students to respect their parents and teachers.
“Make each day count and … don’t take life for granted,” he said. “My story has a happy ending.”
Holden graduated from high school, college and law school. He held several public offices before being elected the city’s mayor-president.
Ascension Parish School Board parent facilitator Wanda August ended the presentation by reading the poem “If You Think.”
August praised the program organizers, saying it’s important for boys to see strong, adult role models who “have made it in life.”