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Program provides youth a firm sense of direction

While most of his friends and classmates moved up to high school last September, Jon-Luc Young stayed behind.

&uot;I failed last year because I played around too much,&uot; said the John F. Kennedy Middle School eighth-grader. &uot;I had to get my life together.&uot;

Last month, one of Young’s friends told him about the school’s Young Men of Direction club, designed to help Kennedy kids find their way. Young decided to attend a meeting – and found that roughly 80 others had done so as well.

&uot;Our goal is for everyone here to go to college,&uot; Assistant Principal Franklin Chatman told the group Thursday afternoon. &uot;We understand that you want to make money, you want to play pro basketball, you want to drive a fancy car, but you have to understand that you need to take a certain path. That’s why we’re called Young Men of Direction. We all need to look in the mirror and realize that it all starts with us. Everything starts with a thought.&uot;

Chatman, the former Nansemond River High varsity basketball coach, said he would ask some of his previous players to come address the crowd. On Thursday, Kennedy geography instructor Robert McNair spoke to the students.

&uot;What you do here and what you do now sets up what you do in the future,&uot; McNair said. &uot;If you don’t do it for anyone else, do it for yourself. Do it because nobody thinks you can do it, and do it because we know you can.&uot;

As Chatman lined up the students to check out an inspirational book to read for the next meeting, assistant principal Elizabeth Bennett watched from the side of the room.

&uot;It’s really caught fire,&uot; she said of the club. &uot;Kids are coming to the office to ask for a tie to wear to the meetings, and asking for applications to join (all are accepted, but require parental permission).

&uot;A lot of the kids don’t have male role models, and this gives them someone to talk to. A lot of faculty members are involved. They can write their personal goals, discuss peer pressure, talk about the pitfalls of gangs around here and why we don’t go in that direction. It gives them the feeling that somebody cares about them.

&uot;It’s not about math or English; it’s about caring about each other as people.&uot;

It sounded like the children were feeling it.

&uot;I needed to change my life, because I want to go to college,&uot; said Gerard Gomes, who said he’d like to play football at the University of Miami. &uot;I’ve learned self-discipline, and to show respect for others. I’ve learned to set examples, improve my grades and set goals.&uot;

So has Young.

&uot;It’s helped me get on my feet,&uot; he said of the program. &uot;I’ve got some new friends to help me a long. I’ve learned to get out of the wrong crowd and not let things bother me. I got all Bs and Cs on my report card, and I haven’t had any disciplinary referrals.&uot;

jason.norman@suffolknewsherald.com