You are hereHome ›
Young men’s group seeks to inspire neighborhood kids
Boys gather at Conway Rec for weekly discussions
The Conway Young Men’s Group is at this point a loose-knit group with noble aims.
Since February, the group of boys has been getting together every Thursday to hang out, talk about personal troubles, social issues, and to simply have a place to go.
The boys, ranging in age from 12 to 18, gather at the Conway Recreation Center and follow the lead of the group’s organizers, Tim Turner and Chris Melendez, who helped start the group out of a desire to connect with youths.
Turner looks at the group as a place where the kids can be themselves.
“What I’m really realizing is that they want adults ... who are willing to accept them as they are,” he said.
“We try to keep it really honest,” Turner explained, and “try to discuss things that these young people are dealing with.”
Turner and Melendez don’t get paid and don’t have any obligation to take time out of their week. But they do it anyway, out of a desire to inspire the young men, many of whom are African American and come from single-parent families.
Turner said that for some of the boys, the group could be serving to support “a major lack of adult males” in the boys’ lives.
“A lot of the old-school way of raising kids has kind of changed,” he said, noting that some of the boys in the groups who have young parents who are perhaps busy trying to keep afloat.
In terms of possibilities, Tim Turner, who helps lead the Conway Young Men’s Group, said that among other things, the boys are hoping to find job opportunities through their work with the young men’s group.
One teen has already been hired at the Culver’s on Old Hudson Road, and two more will go through interviews in the near future.
Darius Brooks, 18, said he regularly drives across town to be part of the group.
He said he keeps coming because he’s got friends there. Group leaders Chris Melendez and Turner are a pull as well, he said.
“I can relate to what they’re talking about,” he said.
Brooks is studying for his GED test, and is hoping that through the young men’s group he might find job opportunities and build his resume.
Once a month, the members of the Conway Young Men’s Group get to eat a free meal at the Sun Ray Culver’s.
Doug Swalboski, owner of the restaurant on Old Hudson Road, said feeding the group once a month is “a very small thing to do.”
He said if it’s helping the boys stay active and productive, “that’s what we’ve always been about.”
Swalboski said the two leaders, Tim Turner and Chris Melendez, are in a unique position to connect with the kids.
“I feel like the kids can relate to the guys,” he said, “and I just think they have the potential to make a huge impact on those gentlemen.”
Melendez, 30, helped start the group after expressing his concerns about the Eastview Recreation Center, which was privatized, to the District 1 community council.
He spoke with Betsy Leach, executive director of the District 1 Community Council, and afterward “was given the task to come up with a youth program,” he said.
He took a class at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, which has programming for youth outreach, and started the group in February, after meeting Tim Turner through the District 1 council.
Melendez grew up nearby, and said he feels like he’s filling a role that he wishes he had as a boy.
“When I grew up, I couldn’t relate to any of the teachers,” he recalled.
He said so far, though the group’s still figuring itself out, it’s got momentum.
“Every week there’s a new kid,” he said. On paper, they’ve got 22 boys in the group, though about 30 have come more than once, he said. They’re hoping to keep building on that.
He said the group gives the boys a way to play a larger part in the neighborhood.
“That’s the biggest thing,” he said, “is that we want to help develop them into strong young men in the community.”
Betsy Leach, director of the District 1 community council, noted some of the ways the boys are already plugging into the community.
“(The group is) giving us a youth voice on a variety of development issues (in the neighborhood),” she said. For instance, the group’s given input on what they’d like to see from a private partner at Conway Rec Center, and what they would like to have at the remodeled Sun Ray Library.
“This is a way for us to really get the voice of the future telling us how we could be doing planning,” Leach said. And it’s good for the boys, too.
“I think it’s opening their eyes to some possibilities,” she said.
In addition to attending community meetings, the boys are also looking for ways to volunteer. The group is reaching out to senior groups, in hopes of setting up volunteer opportunities such as shoveling sidewalks.
A word from the sheriff
Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom met with the group on Nov. 14 to talk about school, and encourage the boys to consider careers in law enforcement.
A group of 20 or so boys sat completely quiet, listening.
“The earlier you learn that you have a purpose, the better,” he told them. “And you’ve got a purpose.”
He encouraged the boys to stick to studying, and laid out how that served him. He grew up on the East Side and is a Johnson High School graduate.
“(By finishing school), you’re going to be able to write your own future,” he told them. “And I’m telling you, the future is bright. There are a lot of exciting things out there.
One of which, he told them, is working for the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department.
Bostrom also fielded questions from the boys, ranging from how a person can end up in jail to what it takes to become a deputy.
Turner said he’s been inspired by the depth of the conversations the group’s been able to hold. For instance, the boys discussed a political issue that proposed penalizing parents if their children fail in school.
The kids thought about it and came up with a variety of opinions. One 12-year-old said he was already struggling in school, and that wouldn’t make it any easier, while a 14-year-old said it would be good and make him try harder.
Regardless of the individual opinions, Turner said the discussion opened his eyes to the kids’ abilities to discuss complex issues.
Turner said it was also great, because Kathy Korum, deputy director of St. Paul Parks and Recreation, was there to hear it.
“It helped to solidify us as a group,” he said. “It helped them understand ‘my input’s valuable.’”
Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.
On Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom spoke with a group of young men at the Culver's on Old Hudson Road in St. Paul. The Conway Young Men's Group meets weekly to hang out and talk about school, family, and to participate in community events. (video by Patrick Larkin/Review)