On the sidelines of a soccer game, in the concession lineup of a movie theatre, while preparing a meal in our kitchen—our male youth workers steal quiet moments to teach young men who are staying with us about respect, responsibility and kindness. Our Gentlemen’s Group offers fun activities, helpful workshops and discussion groups for our male youth where they can bond and share with each other and our staff.
Some of our male youth workers took the initiative to start the Gentlemen’s Group when they saw that our young men needed mentors. The name was important, because they wanted it to be about more than guys getting together. Becoming a “gentleman” means realizing that your actions have consequences and learning how to treat others considerately.
Our young men need guidance on maintaining respectful relationships, becoming present and caring fathers and working through conflicts in a healthy way with other guys. The majority of our youth come from homes where there was abuse and neglect. Some had fathers or step-fathers who they witnessed abusing their mothers. Some had no father figure at all. Without role models, our young men often struggle to make positive choices. Our male staff knew their influence could be a powerful force for good for these kids. When advice comes from our male youth workers, men often not much older than them, they really listen.
“We basically talk about relationships—with girlfriends, family, friends, co-workers. With girlfriends, you have to be kind, communicate and listen. We want to tell them red flags for when conflict is getting bad,” says our youth worker and Gentlemen’s Group facilitator Mike.
Boys who become homeless also have to deal with more than their share of loss and grief, but they are less likely than girls to actively seek help. Before joining the Gentlemen’s Group, Alex suffered from extreme anxiety and trust issues. “He is such a nice, sweet kid,” explains Mike. “But he needed to work on social skills.” He has joined them on numerous workshops and outings. His confidence grew as he found his voice in the group and he began to feel a rare sense of belonging. “I know that the group has made a big difference for him,” Mike says.
The youth workers rely on the guys to tell them what interests them. Sports and movies are popular, but they also want to learn how to dress for success and other life skills like cooking. They loved our youth worker Everton’s workshop on tacos and ties, where they each got a tie and learned to tie it after enjoying a dinner they made themselves.
Malcolm, a youth who moved out a couple of years ago, visits the group regularly to help out. He appreciates the sense of community and the chance to catch up with staff members who made a difference in his life. He spoke to the Gentlemen’s Group recently about what it is like to leave Covenant House and how important it is to have a plan that includes employment and savings.
The group had a very special outing to a men’s tailors recently. Ten youth were fitted with donated suits. The guys felt validated to be treated with the same care and respect that any customers would receive. Something magical happens when our kids see themselves dressed in a nice suit. It makes them believe in their own potential. They are now ready to take on the next big interview.
Our youth sometimes have a misdirected sense of shame due to living in a shelter and they may be frustrated by the uphill climb to become independent. The Gentlemen’s Group offers a brotherly community where youth can be themselves. “We give them the tools to do better,” Mike says. “And they take it in pretty well.”