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Man mentors kids at club that turned him around

February 04, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Michael Rodgers credits the Boys & Girls Clubs of Washington County with keeping him out of trouble, opening doors of academic opportunity and shaping him into a leader who makes responsible choices.

Rodgers, 19, was honored as the club's Youth of the Year for 2001. The award's $1,200 scholarship enabled Rodgers to attend Hagerstown Community College, where he has maintained a 3.0 grade point average and recently was recruited for the basketball team.

"Before getting Youth of the Year, I hadn't even thought about college," Rodgers said. "I was surprised I actually went. I like college better than high school."

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Now he is giving back to the organization that had such a big impact on his life.

"I just like being around the kids. They're funny," Rodgers said. "They say the wildest stuff."

In addition to working at a local retail store, Rodgers spends many weekday afternoons tutoring club members and assisting with sports programs at the facility on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown, he said.

"Mike is a real asset to the club," Unit Director Darnell Shaffer said. "He is a mentor and role model for a lot of younger kids."

Rodgers said he strives to model positive behavior because he understands what it's like to struggle in school and make positive choices amid peer pressure to do the wrong things.

"You have to respect people and be your own person. Be a leader, not a follower," he said. "It's hard, but you have to learn to make your own choices."

Club Operations Director Buck Browning recalled the time when Rodgers, while still in middle school, turned in a bag of crack cocaine he found while walking home from school.

"I seen other people making bad choices and I realized I didn't want to be in that situation. I got in trouble in school because I didn't care. I didn't take it seriously," said Rodgers, who started attending the Boys & Girls Club when he was in first or second grade.

"The club helped straighten me out. That's why I try to help the other kids out," he said.

Rodgers volunteered at the Boys & Girls Club - helping with homework, serving as a game room chaperone and participating in community service projects - before being hired as a part-time staff member, Shaffer said.

The young man's popularity at the club is apparent. Younger members such as 6-year-old Trae Harris jump on his lap when he sits down, flock around him on the basketball court, and yell "Hey, Mike Mike" as he walks past. Juaqwan Johnson, 8, and other club members pull up chairs next to Rodgers to complete their homework with his help.

Eighth-grader Tony Weedon said Rodgers helped him bring his grades up enough to advance to high school this month after failing his classes last year.

"Mike helped me get my head straight," Tony said.

Rodgers prefers praising the efforts of club members to discussing his role in their accomplishments. He commended the club's middle school students for helping each other with their homework and maintaining high grades. Eighth-grade student Ebony Williams, in particular, has distinguished herself as an athlete, scholar and leader, Rodgers said.

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