There were certain things I never worried about as a child. We never worried about money. My family was not rich, but we were comfortable. My mother did not have to work. She was a homemaker that my siblings and I came home to after school. Every school district I lived in was exceptional with classes for gifted children along with offering drama and music as options for regular participation, not just P.E. or an occasional art class.
From politicians to parents, they say that the future of our communities and the world is in the hands of children. However, what happens if the conditions some children have are limited at best?
I recently learned of an organization called Boys Hope Girls Hope and attended a breakfast they held that explained what their organization does. Boys Hope Girls Hope offers children and their families choices they simply would not have access to any other way. BHGH provides a solution for families that do not have the means to give their child an education or the academic support that they need in order to succeed in an academic environment.
Here is how the program works: BHGH provides a home for boys (and hopefully, soon, for girls) where the young men, known as, 'scholars,' come to live and get the scholastic attention they require. In San Francisco, the boys' home is located in Noe Valley and can accommodate up to 10 boys.
This is not a group home and these children are not wards of the state. The young men come from circumstances that are less than optimal and they simply need a fighting chance -- they need hope. An alumni from BHGH spoke during breakfast to share his experiences with the program. His name is Michael Armstrong and he started with the program 16 years ago when he was 13. At that time, Armstrong's mother had just died from cirrhosis of the liver and his father was a victim of the crack epidemic.
Armstrong was from Detroit and says he was, "a troubled kid, getting into trouble, hanging out on the streets and being exposed to things most adults are not." Armstrong's older sister found BHGH and wanted to enroll Armstrong in the program. However, at 13 and angry with the world, he was not keen on the idea.
"When it was first presented to me, I thought it was a boys home. When my mom passed away, I kind of shut down and the last thing I thought about was school. I stopped going to school, though my father and sister did not know. They thought when I left the house in the morning, I was heading off to school. What I really did was get more involved in the streets. When BHGH accepted me, I had a 1.3 GPA and that first semester at BHGH I got it up to a 3.3 GPA. Everyone involved in this program helped to set me up for success, and they were all involved in my schooling."
Armstrong finished high school and went on to the University of Michigan, where he majored in retailing management and he is currently a corporate recruiter in Seattle. Armstrong made it clear that BHGH isn't just a way to get through high school, because once you go to college BHGH is still there supporting these kids, and making sure that they do well. When Armstrong was in college, he got into a peck of trouble, the way several college students do, and once again the family from BHGH came to hold him accountable.
He lost his scholarship and they challenged him to earn it back, which he did. Armstrong still keeps in touch with the other boys he went through the program with. Now, one is a lawyer, one is working on his master's, and one is working and paying his show business dues as he becomes an actor. Armstrong firmly believes that his life would have been much different had BHGH not been an option for him.
Also in attendance at this breakfast were all the girls that are a part of BHGH. I spoke to them to see what they thought of the program. I asked them why they liked the program and they all said enthusiastically, "because it helps with school!" The girls currently only have an after school program, because BHGH SF has yet to acquire a house for the girls the way they have for the boys. I asked the girls if the house were available, would they would want to live there? I got a resounding yes from all of the girls in attendance.
These children are not taken from their families, it is a cooperative effort for both the parent and the child. Both parties have to want to go through the process for it to work. These children love their families and their families love them. Sadly, due to circumstances, these families cannot provide the education and structure that BHGH can. These parents love their children enough and understand a bigger picture to receive help for them away from their own home.
Beyond any backgrounds the children come from, the commonality is that each one is extremely gifted. These are children whose test results show that if given the right opportunity, there is no telling how far they could climb scholastically.
The most successful people in this world, are partially successful due to all the help they have received along the way. Sometimes help is simply encouragement and someone taking a vested interest in your life. This program takes children and helps to make them successful, productive members of our community and society. What would the world look like, if every child was given attention, love, structure and support when they needed it most?
"Not a lot of people believed in me, but this program did." says Armstrong. The final words of a scholar who is now studying at NYU sums it up best: "My last name means, 'fails.' I wake up every day knowing that I can change that. Boys Hope Girls Hope has helped me see that." If you would like to know more about BHGH, you can visit them at: boyshopegirlshope.org.
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