Tyreon Clark looked with astonishment Friday at hundreds of boys seated next to their adult male mentors at Broadway United Methodist Church for the first Boys to Men Breakfast with Dads.
As he took in the scene, with row upon row of long tables in the church’s worship hall, Clark felt “overwhelming support” for the youth leadership program that started with just a few students at Parker-Bennett-Curry Elementary School in 2011.
“They are the reason this happened,” said Clark, an employment training specialist for the Bowling Green Independent School District and the Boys to Men leadership group director.
Designed to encourage positive behavior and classroom success, the Boys to Men program rewards students with the chance to dress up and wear a tie.
The program teaches students respect, resilience and “how to be a good person, how to be kind,” as Natcher Elementary School fourth-grader Kamauri Blewett put it.
“The best thing about it is you have men around you who can teach you how not to be on the streets, how not to be a thug. To live your life and do good things in life,” Kamauri said.
On Friday, more than 160 mentors from the community gathered to enjoy a meal with the students, some of whom are their own sons. Schools from the Bowling Green school district and Warren County Public Schools had students in attendance.
Clark said the event was meant to help galvanize more support, encourage men to “wake up and mentor” young people and help participants form connections.
“That’s what Boys to Men is, it’s a brotherhood,” Clark said.
A program that began at Parker-Bennett-Curry with sleepovers in the school’s gymnasium has grown to involve about 350 students between both the county and city school districts, people affiliated with the program said.
“Now we have been able to blow this group up,” Clark said.
Clark took over the program, which was formed with support from community volunteer Danny Carothers; Jonathan Stovall, now an assistant principal at Adairville School; and Parker-Bennett-Curry Elementary School Principal Delvagus Jackson.
At the time, Carothers said, the three “saw that kids needed some guidance.”
“Our goal was to get more men in the community involved with the kids,” Carothers said, adding they brought in doctors, engineers and other role models for students.
From there, “it just took off,” he said.
The program first spread to Bristow Elementary School, when Clark mentioned starting the program at the school to Principal Chris Stunson in late 2017.
“We saw a huge drop in behavior referrals, things of that nature,” Stunson said of the program.
Student leaders from Bristow have recently helped spread the program to Jennings Creek Elementary School, he said.
“It’s about making connections with kids, building a family and building community,” he said.
The program first came to Natcher Elementary School after Clark approached Principal Matt Thornhill, according to Karen Manley, the school’s family resource center coordinator.
The center provided white dress shirts for students, and a donation from American Legion Post 23 got them ties.
Manley stressed that each program reflects the culture of the school it exists within and said it has a bigger reach than just to boys with absent fathers.
Everyone can’t be a star athlete or a straight-A student, she said.
“This gives them something to be a part of,” she said.