Deborah Moore said she’s seen her grandson, Ryan Maxwell, 17, come out of his shell since he started participating in the mentoring program for boys sponsored by the Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC).
“The program has brought a lot out of Ryan,” said Moore, who is raising her grandson. “He’ll volunteer easily. He’s more focused on trying to make it. He’s not a follower. He’s going to be a leader.”
That’s exactly what Rodney A. Johnson, family advocate counselor, likes to hear about the boys in the mentoring program he leads.
On Saturday, March 25, Ryan and all the boys in the mentoring program will be recognized at a luncheon at the UT Boiling Center for Developmental Disabilities. The first HEROES luncheon will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the first-floor Exhibit Hall of the building at 711 Jefferson Avenue.
The Relative Caregiver Program supports children who are being cared for by relatives because their parents are unable to do so. It is a collaboration between UTHSC and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.
The mentoring group for boys, originally named Empowering Young Males for Success, is now called HEROES, which stands for Honorable, Exceptional, Respectful, Optimistic, Energizing, Smart. Along with a similar group for girls, Girls Empowered and Mentored for Success (GEMS), the goal is to educate and inspire the children enrolled in the caregiver program. Both meet once a month and offer positive advice, life-skills training, and exposure to successful adults in the community.
In keeping with the name change, Johnson said he’s been focusing on heroes with the boys this year. “We’re trying to get them to identify with heroes,” he said. “We’re trying to let them know that greatness lies within themselves.”
The theme of January’s meeting was, “From Good to Great,” encouraging the boys not to settle for good, but aim for greatness, he said. February looked at heroes from the past and how they succeeded despite hardship. In April, the boys will discuss the topic, “Hero or Villain.” A representative from law enforcement will talk about how a split-second decision to choose one over the other can change a life for better or worse.
Johnson said 26 boys, mainly between the ages of 10-15, are in the program now, and most will be at the luncheon, along with their caregivers. A few, who have been with the program since it started, are ages 16 or 17.
Ryan said the program has helped him a lot. “When I was younger, I used to not talk to a lot of people,” he said. “I was the shy one.” Not anymore. On Saturday, Ryan will address the luncheon about what the program has meant to him.