John Gray students get lesson in adulthood

Kendal Zelaya, left, and Antwon Watler paint the eaves of Billy Russell’s home. - Photo: Mark Muckenfuss
Kendal Zelaya, left, and Antwon Watler paint the eaves of Billy Russell’s home. – Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

Billy Russell has wanted to fix up his house for a long time. He just did not have the resources, he said.

Sitting at the southern end of central George Town’s athletic field, Mr. Russell’s home has ill-fitted windows, cracks in the wall and debris in the yard, including stacks of scrap lumber and pruned branches, plastic crates and bottles, an old tire and an old boat trailer. A small fishing boat sits in front of the house. In back is a dilapidated vintage trailer home.

On Saturday, a team of 15 John Gray High School students who are part of the Boyz 2 Men program, attacked the house inside and out with paint brushes and rollers. Giving the place a fresh coat of paint. They will also be helping to tile the floors of the home in the coming days.

“I felt good,” said Mr. Russell, 68, talking about his reaction when he learned of the plans to rehabilitate his home with labor provided by the high schoolers. “They’re good guys. They’re very intelligent and mannerly.”

Donald Hooker is a counselor with the National Drug Council, which collaborates with the Boyz 2 Men program. He and Mr. Russell are friends and Mr. Russell appeared in a video on the dangers of alcohol abuse, talking about his own experiences, that was produced by the council. Mr. Hooker said he saw a way to help Mr. Russell and the community as well.

“This used to be a bad scene,” Mr. Hooker said, pointing to the surrounding neighborhood. “This was a drug scene.”

What he envisions is using Mr. Russell’s home and property as a mini community center.

“We’re going to try to use this as a place for AA meetings and youth meetings,” he said.

Having the teenagers invest themselves in the work, he said, makes sense. They are learning practical skills that may help many of them as they enter the working world, Mr. Hooker said, and they are becoming more involved in their community.

This is the second house the Boyz 2 Men program has painted. In November, some of the members of the group noticed that their bus warden’s home needed some attention. They brought the idea of painting it to Christopher Murray, who directs the program and he agreed it was a good idea.

“It teaches them a sense of pride in their community,” Mr. Murray said. “It teaches them teamwork.”

The painting projects are a small part of the Boyz 2 Men program, which Mr. Murray established nine years ago to help at-risk boys. Program participants learn etiquette and have the chance to participate in a number of community and vocational programs. This year, boys with model behavior were also allowed into the group to help serve as examples and to also learn the ropes of becoming an adult. More than 30 boys are in the program.

Mr. Murray said he thinks the project on Mr. Russell’s house teaches an important lesson.

“They learn a sense of giving without expecting anything in return,” he said.

Kendal Zelaya, 15, said his first experience wielding a paint brush was when he helped paint the bus warden’s house. Such projects, he said, are a good experience.

“I like that we come together as one and we’re helping people that need help,” Kendal said. “It teaches us how to motivate each other and get the job done.”

He said he does not plan to become a painter, but likes it enough that he could see it as a fall-back position.

“I really want to be a chef,” he said. “But I could always start a painting business myself.”

The materials and paint were donated by Paint Pros, while Edie’s Decor supplied the tile. Both companies had representatives on hand to help guide the project.

“Anytime we’re able to help, we’re there,” said John DaCosta, whose family owns Paint Pros. He has helped other nonprofits including Acts of Random Kindness and Meals on Wheels, he said.

He spent time giving the boys some tips before they began slapping paint on the house.

“This one is special because these guys are our future,” Mr. DaCosta said.

Devon Edie, of Edie’s Decor, said working with youth helps fill what he sees as a hole in the education system.

“I’m all for teaching young men how to be responsible and showing them there are trades out there that they can make a living off of,” he said. “If these guys see another way of making money, it may save them from making a trip down the wrong path.”

In the end, Kendal said, the project feeds into the program’s ultimate goal.

“It helps us to be better men,” he said.

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