For some, it is easy to take for granted many of life's opportunities such as living in a stable environment, or having options available to you and your children for a higher education. But for others, the doors seem shut to a better life, and cracking open a window only offers smog-polluted air. There are people out there, though, who are trying to bridge the gap between those born with less and those more fortunate by providing a road map to a better life. Boys Hope Girls Hope works to bridge that divide by placing children from poverty-stricken communities in a stable home, and gifting them with an education that will set them on a track to success in life.
The goal of Boys Hope Girls Hope is to foster at-risk youth who are potential candidates for higher education by placing them in a college-prep program. “Our mission is to fight poverty through education,”says Deacon Robert Farrelly, executive director for the organization.
Founded by Father Paul Sheridan in 1977, the organization sprouted when Sheridan encountered some local youth who had a troublesome home life. He purchased a house in a neighborhood near the St. Louis Science Center, and offered the boys a stable home environment. Sheridan really started something when he decided to aid the boys by keeping them on an academic track, Farrelly says.
“We now have boys' and girls' homes, a community-based program in the Ferguson-Florissant school district, and are about to break ground on new facilities that will allow for expansion,” notes Farrelly. The growth of this organization doesn't slow down there. It has since become an international aid in the fight against poverty by offering 14 affiliates across the country, with three located in Latin America.
And at the local level, one can really see the difference Boys Hope Girls Hope has made right here. “The outcome [of our program] is, in essence, changing the trajectory of families,” Farrelly explains. “These kids are often the first to graduate high school, and then to graduate college. They've laid out a new direction for their family to follow, [showing them] it is possible. Many of the kids even go on to become volunteers, and stay very active in the community.”
From executives to military officers to educators and more, the children who have gone through school with the agency's assistance have grown in roles of leadership and uncovered their true potential in the process. “I saw in Boys Hope Girls Hope the chance to finally be around people in my age group who took education and learning seriously, and who wanted to become agents of change... this organization poured a lot of time and energy into ensuring that my potential, and the potential of kids with similar backgrounds, did not go to waste, and was not stolen,” says scholar Brijhette Farmer, who has since gone on to become an architect, having earned her masters from State University of New York at Buffalo.
Supporting and volunteering for Boys Hope Girls Hope comes in many forms, with event-driven opportunities such as an upcoming golf tournament on June 30. Volunteers put their efforts into fundraising, and some choose to work directly with the scholars through tutoring and mentoring. With the residential expansion on the horizon, spreading the word about what Boys Hope Girls Hope means to the community is top of mind. As Farrelly says, “We have been the best-kept secret in St. Louis, and it's a very high priority to change that.”
Volunteer Spotlight: Rebecca Muehling
Something drew Rebecca Muehling to Boys Hope Girls Hope from the very beginning. Looking for a way to give back to her community, she first ran across the organization on Volunteer Match, but ultimately decided she wanted a more hands-on approach to volunteering. Muehling had yet to learn the difference she could make through the organization, but she soon discovered how important a role it played in the lives of impoverished children. “On a night flight back from a work trip, I chatted with the guy next to me in the middle seat. He was from De Smet [Jesuit High School], and seemed like a wonderful, bright young man. Toward the end of our conversation, it became evident that he was a scholar from Boys Hope Girls Hope,” Muehling recalls. “I joked it was a sign from above, since we were 30,000 feet in the air.”
Muehling not only volunteers on a sub-committee to the board of directors, but also as a mentor to the scholars, which allows her to see the direct impact a volunteer can have on a young person's life. “It's really about being a positive role model. It's about spending time with them, and doing things together. I recently went to Tropical Moose Shaved Ice and The Magic House with my scholar. It's important to lead by example, so they can see positive effects from being passionate about school,” she explains.
As Muehling can attest, Boys Hope Girls Hope truly is making a difference in the lives of young students, but not enough people recognize or understand the importance of this organization. “I wouldn't change much about what the organization is doing because they are already doing amazing things. I'm passionate about getting the word out—to show how cool it is that an international organization is based in this city, and founded in St. Louis. It's a pride point. My call to action: Go to the website.”