Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mentors Polishing Young 'Diamonds in the Rough'; YMCA Program Teaches Character to Boys at John E. Ford Elementary

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mentors Polishing Young 'Diamonds in the Rough'; YMCA Program Teaches Character to Boys at John E. Ford Elementary

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY MARAGHY

One by one, a dozen fifth-grade boys at John E. Ford Elementary School took turns introducing themselves to Terrence Bradshaw, a volunteer mentor through the Yates Family YMCA in Riverside.

Some giggled during the exercise. Some mumbled their names with downcast eyes. Some seemed bashful about shaking hands.

It was a weekly meeting of the Diamond Club, a 4-year-old character-building program for boys sponsored by the YMCA of Florida's First Coast.

Bradshaw, a postal worker who lives on the Northside, said he sought opportunities to help get young men on the right track at a young age. Through the YMCA mentoring programs, he learned there were plenty of male children in need of a mentor, but few male role models to pair them with.

So he proposed mentoring a class full of boys, an hour a week, culminating with a field trip to the juvenile detention center to view proceedings and talk with a bailiff and judges.

And the Diamond Club was born.

"I'd like to spread this throughout Jacksonville, as wide as we can take it," Bradshaw said.

So far, more than 185 boys have been through the program, which meets during school for an hour a week at Ford. Students learn about goal-setting, choices, social interaction, manners, responsibility and attitudes.

"We're diamonds in the rough," student Jamar Bethel said.

"We come here to learn how to respect people," said student Chris Holloway, who was among the blushing mumblers.

Teachers refer students for the program. Parents have clamored to get their child in, said Melissa Wells, YMCA outreach director.

"This program is good for any boy to go through," she said.

Instead of the detention center, students will visit the University of North Florida this year.

Ford's principal, Nan Brooks-Hoyle, called the club - and Bradshaw - absolutely delightful.

"Terrence brings a whole positive role model perspective," she said. "He teaches young men how to be respectful, how to interact with peers and adults. He covers every aspect of that."

At this club meeting, the topic was "making a good first impression," from head to toe hygiene, using manners, courtesy titles, eye contact and a firm handshake. …

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