A weekly game of football at a Washington DC park grew into a mission to support the local community. Members of "The Working Men Who Care," most of whom are born in the nation's capital, are providing supportive father figures and positive male role models for local teens.
Rodney Taylor grew up in the same neighborhood that he now serves as a firefighter. He has always been concerned about teenagers in his local community. If they don't get the right guidance, he says, it's easy for them to drop out and get involved in crime or drug use. "We know that there is a shortage of fathers out there," he explains. "And we know that the kids are hurt because of that. A lot of the kids that we talk to don't have that father figure in their life. They don't have that big brother role model and not a lot of positive brothers in the community they can go and talk to."
So, in 2001, Mr. Taylor and a number of his co-workers and friends founded "The Working Men Who Care."
"We mentor boys ages 14 to 21 in the Washington D.C.," he says. "We get these kids involved in community activities where we go to feed the homeless. We do a Senior Appreciation Day where we do things for the seniors. We play sports. We have a Fellas Day Out, where we talk about different topics, different life choices and try to get the young brothers on the right track."
Some life choices can lead to prison. Mr. Taylor says his group's Project Reality Check addresses the consequences of juvenile crime head-on. "We take a group of kids over to the correctional treatment facility where we show them the other side of the wall from the bad choices the prisoners made," he adds.
"The Working Men Who Care" are firefighters like Rodney Taylor, postal workers, lawyers, contractors and cops, like Captain Martin Davis. He says his volunteer work makes his job as a police officer easier. "If you can reach them earlier and provide some intervention, some direction," he says,"you're going to cut down that number of young people going to jail.
Captain Davis says he knows first-hand how effective mentoring can be in communicating with teens. "When I was young, I was mentored by my barber, my friends' parents," he remembers. "Just the whole community involvement kept me on a straight and narrow. And you can't just go and talk to a kid one time and expect him to change automatically. You have to have some follow-up in place because if you don't stay on top of these kids, they are going to revert back to what they once were."
The founding members of "The Working Men Who Care" are in their 30's, 40's and 50's. Now, Captain Davis says, the organization is trying to attract younger members. "Those 16 and 17 year olds give us new ideas, new innovation and they have a better connection with the younger folks," he says. "We can make them part of the program where they mentor or go to speak with their classmates or peers."
20 year old firefighter Charles Lowe is one of the group's new members.
He visits schools and talks to young boys about the risks waiting for them in the streets, and the importance of staying in school. "I think I have a great impact on them just because I'm just a few steps ahead of them," he explains. "I'm an example of what they can be in a very short term. I had been in high school with some of those kids. I was a senior, when they were freshmen. So, they've seen that I come exactly from where they come from."
Another new member, Raynard Wilkins, a firefighter, says oftentimes, all teenagers need is a positive conversation. "The main thing is the time," he says. "They want to listen to you and talk with you to get the good advice, positive influence. Kids have a lot of questions and they need people with answers. Or who can help them get the answers."
"Working Men Who Care" founder and president Rodney Taylor says Father's Day (June 19) is another opportunity for his group to encourage all the adults in the neighborhood to get more involved in their children's lives. It might take some time out of their busy schedules, he says, but the positive impact will stay with the kids forever.