Hope is an interesting word. By itself it is positive, optimistic, aspirational. Add the word not and it becomes not positive, not optimistic, not aspirational. Meet Brandon, a young man that entered our mentoring program at a time when not was a word he lived with daily, many others agreeing with his outlook. His mentor Rob reflects back on first meeting Brandon and is consumed with pride at how far he brought himself forward. Rob’s investment in Brandon changed his future.
At some point we’ve all encountered them– teenagers who make us shake our heads and sigh with exasperation. Perhaps we secretly label them or predict for them a grim future including jail time or worse. It’s all too easy to look down in judgment on struggling young people, especially when we are unaware of or unwilling to know their stories. Brandon was one such labeled teenager. With an absent father and a mother unable to care for him, Brandon moved into his girlfriend’s house. But even there he did not find refuge, and the family treated him poorly. The Tri-Cities High School senior was angry at the world, and his anger manifested in frequent fights at school. When he got into a fistfight with his football team and punched the football coach, it seemed like the end of the line: Brandon would be expelled and become just another statistic of juvenile delinquency.
Fortunately, that year Brandon had what so many teenagers don’t ever have – a mentor, Rob, who believed in him. Brandon was referred to the StandUp for Kids Atlanta mentoring program held at Tri-Cities. Rob and StandUp staff advocated for Brandon with the school principal. They arranged for him to have therapy with the school counselor, and Brandon was allowed to return to school on probation. Everyone, including Brandon, knew this was his last chance.
Brandon worked hard to prove that Rob’s and StandUp staff’s confidence in his ability to turn his life around was not misplaced. He stopped cutting classes and studied to bring up his grades. In therapy he learned healthy coping mechanisms for his anger. Rob “taught me how to be a better me,” Brandon later wrote. That spring, Rob and StandUp staff celebrated as Brandon walked in his high school graduation. He received a small scholarship from StandUp and is now attending Guilford College.
If Brandon had not had adults in his life willing to see through the outward shell of anger and aggression to the hurting young man who desperately needed someone to believe in him, his story might have had a very different ending. High schools are full of young people like Brandon whose difficult circumstances are invisible to most onlookers, who see only the problematic behavior stemming from those circumstances. It is vital for their long-term futures that these struggling teenagers have what Brandon had – at least one adult who is willing to invest in them, advocate for them, and be the encouraging presence in their lives that they may not find anywhere else. It is StandUp’s goal to ensure that every kid has that caring adult.