Daniel Whyte was a tight end for the Detroit Lions. In 1994, he helped found Club R.E.A.L, which aimed to help low-income children socialize and learn to accept responsibility, hard work and maintain positive attitudes.
Daniel said he started the club because many low-income children in Mount Ida have few opportunities to learn leadership skills within the community. He based Club R.E.A.L. on his own experiences as a teen-ager in Wilmington, Del., where he participated in a YMCA club that sought to instill character and pride in local youngsters.
“It gave us an opportunity to meet outstanding people in the community,” he said. “That really gave me a structure” and ability “to understand that kids at that age could accomplish something.”
Since establishing the club, the youngsters have created a code of conduct, elected six officers and begun planning a St. Patrick’s Day Dance. Each week, the youngsters are responsible for conducting a meeting, creating an agenda, taking minutes and collecting dues.
In the process, they have learned about respect, cooperation and patience. During a meeting last week, for example, they struggled to create a policy on probation for disorderly members. At times, the discussion dissolved into a free-for-all, as the teen-agers struggled to voice their opinions. Mr. Whyte intervened more than once to calm the group and show the fledgling officials how to introduce discussion matters and recognize speakers.
“You’ve got to sit in a meeting and not show attitude,” he told the teen-agers.
Mr. Whyte compared the club leaders’ responsibilities to those facing The President of the United States. “He has to run the country. He can’t sit back, and mope and pout,” he told them. “The same thing here. You have to keep a positive attitude for an hour and a half.”
Parents of club members said they already have noticed a difference in their children’s attitudes. “It’s the first time I’ve seen them this enthused about something,” said Debbie Bowie, who has two sons and a daughter in the club. “They need a chance to be heard, and sometimes adults stifle that,” Ms. Bowie said. “These kids are productive children who can go on to become productive teen-agers and productive adults.”
The youngsters said they have learned a lot about themselves in the past month. “You have to have a lot of patience,” said Trenae Groomes, 11.
Others said they have learned that policy-making is a complex affair that requires a lot of cooperation. “Some people are hard to get along with,” said Takeya Kelly, 12. Mr. Whyte sees progress. “They’re gradually seeing themselves come together,” he said.
In addition to the St. Patrick’s dance, club members plan to attend County Council meetings and seek a meeting with Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Eventually, they hope to travel and to attend Broadway plays.
“I sold them on a reality of a dream,” Mr. Whyte said. “Anything is possible, depending on how hard they work.”
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