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Hope Journals: LaRon’s Story

“I would hope that everybody would start listening to one another and understanding each other.”

Hope Journals is a video and blog series which tells just a few of the amazing stories of young people who have the kind of will and perseverance to do the work, to be the first in their families to go to college, to be humble servant leaders in their circles of influence, and to use their hard-fought achievements for something beyond themselves.

This wasn’t a typical video shoot.  In fact, neither I nor my colleague Patience Randle ever had personal contact with LaRon during the production of this film. The making of LaRon’s Story in Kansas City is about a desire to safely capture this historical moment in our program—with a willing subject and some incredible creativity and collaboration between two team members and artists.   

Originally, Patience and I had plans to produce several videos this year featuring young people from across the Boys Hope Girls Hope Network for this short docuseries.  We were heading home from spending time with Jenny in Southern California and Perry in San Francisco just as the first U.S. cases of COVID-19 were being reported.  It wasn’t long after that trip that schools and universities began to close.  Some of our affiliates were located in “coronavirus hotspots.”  Concerns for the health, well-being, and safety of our scholars and team members were paramount.  

The Boys Hope Girls Hope family moved quickly to ensure our more than 450 collegians were able to get home either to one of our residences or in another safe place.

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Concurrently, with only a few days notice, my husband and I made plans to return to California where our youngest child attends college.  Grocery store shelves were empty.  Masks, Lysol, and hand sanitizer were nowhere to be foundCurfews were already in order in Los Angeles.  Because we knew shut-downs seemed imminent, my husband insisted we fly out and back in one day

It was a whirlwind trip that I’m sure we will remember for the rest of our lives.  Like many other families, we were faced with expensive flights, a scarcity of storage facilities, and limited food options.  We watched our disappointed daughter, her roommate, and friends give each other tearful, heart-wrenching good-byesAs we tugged huge suitcases into the airport, we felt the collective heaviness everyone was carrying that seemed to exceeded the weight of their luggage.  When we returned home, we chose to isolate ourselves for two weeks.  Meanwhile, we prayed. 

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Kansas City Executive Director Tonya Dean with team member Sonya.

Our devoted team members, in consultation with parents and guardians, began working around the clock to determine what was best for the young people in our residential and academy programs.

For those scholars in quarantine with their families, daily calls, Zoom connections, grocery deliveries, tech assistance, online coursework and virtual tutoring became the norm. 

The affiliate team in Kansas City had just said, “See you next week!” to middle schoolers who had a scheduled home visit for spring break. Shortly thereafter, the city’s stay-at-home order was announced.  They worked to find and stock up on food, medical supplies and elusive paper goods. They taped a COVID-19 safety sign on the front door.  Then the high school scholars, a collegian, and one team member hunkered down for what turned out to be a two-month shelter-in-place.

That team member is my son Courtney Hines. He began working for Boys Hope Girls Hope of Kansas City last year as Academic Coordinator.  Since it wouldn’t be safe for multiple team members to go in and out of the boys’ house, he stayed for the first few weeks until testing was availableHis task was to make sure the scholars were on track to finishing the school year strong, despite the difficultiesOne of the possessions that he took with him, and can’t live without, was his camera.

The boys had soon finished their school year online.  We had all come to terms with the fact that we weren’t going anywhere for a few weeks.  I thought it would be interesting to make a video where we could learn how at least one of our scholars was viewing the pandemic. 

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From left: Emmanuel (collegian) with scholars LaRon, Aaron, Trent, and team members Valencia and Courtney

Patience and Kansas City’s Executive Director Tonya Dean found the idea intriguing.  While not specifically familiar with filmmaking, Courtney agreedWe met via video conference where Patience and I helped him with some creative direction.  I dropped off his lights, microphone, and tripods on the porch along with other treats for him and the boys!  And that’s how this adventure began. 

So, the artists that I mentioned earlier collaborating on this project would be Courtney and Patience, creator and editor respectively.  Our storyteller is LaRon, who learned new photography skills and shot some of the b-roll for his own video!   

In the outtakes, LaRon shared that he does get homesick, especially during this long time away from his large family—home visits are typically one weekend per month—but he’s been staying in touch with them by phone, especially his mom.

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LaRon loves reading and English, but he also said his favorite school subject is math. He feels confident when he knows it and can help others.  He’s a member of the Conservation and Gaming clubs at school.  In the Conservation Club, the students handle and care for around ten species of animals, which makes him feel good about looking after the well-being of other living things.   

This young man is hopeful, kind, an excellent student, and deeply thoughtful.  He is an early riser who says he strives to be productive during the first part of the day and to leave his hobbies and games for when the work is done.

Gifted in multiple ways, LaRon has many career avenues he could pursue. He exhibits a quiet gratitude for the stability and support he now has at Boys Hope Girls Hope, which is critical to helping him identify and reach his academic and life goals.

For example, this summer, Courtney led the boys through a challenging experiential learning assignment.  They identified a project, created an itemized budget, developed plans, assigned tasks, gave presentations, shopped for supplies, and built it.  Together, they chose a go-cart.  LaRon took on a leadership role, even learning how to weld!  As of the publication of this story, the go-cart is nearly complete, and LaRon was the first to test-drive it. 

Our scholars are among the millions of young people in our country who have been negatively impacted by systemic disadvantages—underfunded school districts, poverty, housing inequality, disproportionate incarceration, health disparities, and racial injustice. Despite any circumstances that might work to hold them back, they still maintain optimism and an unshakeable will to be what God created them to be. They want to be free and given a chance—to learn, to advance, to thrive, to breathe.

During the time it took to produce this video, George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Protests broke out all over America.  We connected with LaRon again virtually to ask him how he was doing.  He said he’s spent a lot of time reflecting about what happened.  He’s considered what it means for him as a young person of color, and how he can contribute to a world that’s more peaceful and accepting of people’s differences. 

Above all, LaRon’s plea is for people to listen to one another, to find common understanding, to love one another, and to embrace equality for everyone.  His ideals are a noble call to all of us.   

About Boys Hope Girls Hope, LaRon says, “It’s a really good thing that’s going on here.   

He’s right.  Our teams haven’t stopped serving scholars through the past few months.  Whether in person with strict protocols on safety or in virtual connections, helping collegians transition to their campuses or to new online learning experiences, Boys Hope Girls Hope is there.  Instead of backing down we’re digging in, innovating and hosting new programsWe’re actively helping our scholars to be men and women for others, making change in their communities todayWe’re building upon years of diversity, equity and inclusion work because we know our scholarsand now even more young people—desperately need a place of true belonging. 

In Kansas City, all of the scholars and team members now have the boys’ residence buzzing in preparation for the new school year.

I would like to give a very special thanks to LaRon for his courage and openness. He’s already finding his voice, contributing, and making a difference.  LaRon, thank you for calling us higher!