Chatter and laughter filled the hallway and the aroma of fresh pizza permeated the air at the Walnut Way Conservation Corp. community center, as a group of teenage boys recently gathered for the first meeting of the season of Boys 2 Leaders.
Terron Edwards, wellness coordinator at Walnut Way, asked the 13 boys in attendance a simple question: “Can you learn at the same time as having fun?”
Finally, a hand popped up. Quaamar Morehouse, 14, used basketball as an example. “Yeah, because I’m learning to perfect my shot every day and I always have fun playing ball,” he said. “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.”
Edwards, who has been with Walnut Way for almost five years, runs the group, which works with male youth up to age 25. Boys 2 Leaders, a spring and summer program, was established four years ago following the shooting death of a 19-year-old boy in the community.
“An immediate outreach from his friends was to create a peace group, which eventually turned into a men’s wellness organization,” Edwards said. “From there, it took off and now we’ve got Boys 2 Leaders where youth learn leadership skills and more.”
Youth have the opportunity to engage in activities, conversations and workshops on conflict resolution, self-accountability and career skills, while creating a network of youth leadership in the community. Youth who participate in the group also attend activities such as Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks games at no cost. Boys 2 Leaders raises money throughout the year through fundraisers to support these activities. The group will meet nine more times during the summer, in addition to field trips.
“This is an excellent opportunity for our youth to grow and mature into young men,” Edwards said. “We want the best for these boys and this program provides them with all the resources to do what they enjoy, but most importantly stay out of trouble.”
The youth chose the events they want to participate in. Master Gandy, Kendrick Robinson and Devon Haynes all voted to go to a sporting event over the summer. “We love our sports and it’s going to be awesome to go see the Brewers in action,” Gandy said. Others voted to attend concerts, play paintball and enjoy the outdoors on a camping trip.
Several participants credit Edwards for helping them with personal issues. “Terron has helped me in more ways than one,” Morehouse said. “I was going through a lot when I came to the program and [Terron] gave me some good advice; it was nice being able to get problems off my chest and talk about it.”
Morehouse, who has been a part of Boys 2 Leaders for just over a year, said he hopes Edwards and other Walnut Way leaders can expand the program to reach even more young men in Milwaukee. “Everyone likes Terron and he is such a positive person in the city; he could help so many more people,” he said.
Ethan Davis, 11, joined the group last year after learning about it from his cousin. “I like it all,” Ethan said. “It’s fun being able to go out into the community and help out; and then we get rewarded with cool activities and food.”
Like Morehouse, Ethan sees Edwards as a mentor. “Terron is a guy that everyone can go to because he is so friendly,” he said. “Boys 2 Leaders has helped me become a better person, and I’ve learned to have a lot of fun while helping others along the way.”
Boys 2 Leaders helps out in the community by cleaning up trash and hosting events such as bonfires and cookouts.
“Working with young people is special,” Edwards said, because there is so much untapped energy and potential in these kids,” he said. “Social change has always been championed by youth movements; and it shows in our neighborhood’s revitalization.”