A MINISTRY AT TRINITY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH in Morristown is showing young boys that violence is not the answer to their problems.
Kathryn Hodge, director, said that this year’s program served 5th and 6th grade boys. Hodge, a schoolteacher, noticed that several boys in the pre-teen age group needed a “father figure” and were experiencing serious behavior problems.
"We want to show these boys that people do care, and that violence is not the solution to their problems,” she said. “We want them to make lifelong changes so they can go on and live productive lives.”
When the program first began a few years ago, as many as 30 children were involved. Organizers later realized they could be more effective by working with smaller groups. This year, six boys participated in the program called Boys to Men, which includes a Power for Peace Camp.
"I have seen drastic changes in the participants in the past few months,” said Hodge. “I have been really pleased with the results.”
The 12-year-old boy said that he is glad he had an opportunity to participate in Boys to Men.
“I have learned to respect people, and I have learned that I should listen to my elders,” he said. “I have changed. Being here has definitely helped me.”
An 11-year-old participant said, “I have learned to change my ways and do good things instead of bad. It is not right to judge others. A person is a person. We are all the same; we are all equal.”
Another 12-year-old participant said, “After joining Boys to Men, I don’t have violence in my life anymore. I have learned to talk things out instead of hitting people.”
The boy said he has learned to listen to his conscience. He’s happier than he was when he was being violent. If it weren’t for the program, he said, he would be spending time with the wrong people.
"I would be hanging out with people who use drugs. I wouldn’t use drugs, but the other people would,” he said. “I definitely would be in violent situations.”
Another participant, who is 11, said, “I now know that violence is not the way to handle things. I have learned to love and respect others.”
Since last Christmas, program organizers met with the boys one evening each week for a meal, sports, and counseling. Every other weekend, the boys went on different adventures, such as hiking, camping, rock climbing, attending theater and musical events, and dining at restaurants.
Four of the participants attended a four-day camp that helped them with academics and behavior management. This summer, the boys gathered monthly for fellowship. A highlight was attending a concert in Knoxville to see their favorite Christian group, Acappella, and then meeting the band members. The boys have adopted as a theme one of the band’s songs, “Emergency,” which is about violence and drugs in our nation.
The Boys to Men program is partially funded by a Change for Children grant. According to Hodge, the program is entering its second phase and half of the funds have been spent. The organizers have decided to keep the same boys in the program for the next year, while continuing with the same counselor.
"We will continue to keep these boys in prayer and keep them in our program for the upcoming year,” said Hodge. “We want to touch their lives forever, and we have already seen amazing changes in these boys.”
Kathy Barnes-Hemsworth is Lifestyles Editor for the Newport Plain Talk. She attends Bewley’s Chapel UMC in Morristown District.
Editor’s Note: In June, the Holston Annual Conference adopted a resolution establishing a domestic-violence ministry. A task force is now working to provide related clergy training in 2008.