From Poverty to Promise Pt. 2: Breaking the cycle, Boys Hope Girls Hope Cincinnati
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Debbie Bowman broke the cycle of childhood poverty and now she's paying it forward.
She runs "Boys Hope Girls Hope Cincinnati." It's a program that provides education for at risk kids and for many, it's a life-changer.
"Hope means a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. I've been hoping to succeed in life and it looks like I'm on the right path to succeed," said 12-year-old Steven.
That wasn't always the case. There was a time hope didn't exist in his life. Like Steven, Jesse is a kid who almost fell through the cracks until Boys Hope opened the door to a new future.
Jesse said, "It's brought me here and this is going to bring me from here to here. And, I'm proud to be a scholar and to try as hard as I can."
Jesse and Steven are two of 24 scholars enrolled in Boys Hope Girls Hope Cincinnati's residential program.
"To provide somebody with a hand out or a book or a meal, really important. But to take it to the next level and change a life that can change a family that can change a generation is at the foundation of what Boys Hope Girls Hope is all about," said Dave Conway, board chair at Boys Hope Girls Hope Cincinnati.
Leading the charge, Debbie knows first-hand how tough child poverty can be, "These kids, I can feel their energy when it's negative, I can feel it. Because I felt it for so long and anxiety for so long in my life."
Both Jesse and Steven, middle schoolers at St. Vivians in Finneytown, want to go to St. Xavier High School. It's possible because of Boys Hope, which takes educational guardianship of the children who join the program. The kids live in a group home and visit family on the weekends.
"We're strict, we're tough. You've got work to do and it's not easy. Many times they'll say, 'Maybe this isn't for me,' but they realize in the long term they're going to get to a really great place," said Debbie.
There are plenty of positive examples of success. One would be NFL player Greg Scruggs. He grew up in Winton Terrace and moved into the Boys Hope house when he was 12.
Scruggs said, "We really don't have a vision for our lives and where we're going. We know what we would like to do, but the reality of it happening is slim to none and getting into Boys Hope, it really gives you that light. It really gives you the path and sets you in a direction to be able to do whatever you want to do."
Scruggs said Boys Hope turned him into a person with purpose, direction, and goals.
Scholar Daniel Braswell got that same message. In fall 2016 he'll start the doctorate program of physical therapy at UC.
But, his journey wasn't always easy, "You get the typical, 'You're a traitor, you're this, you think you're better than us.' There was an element of survivors guilt, even within my own family."
Guys like Greg and Daniel see Boys Hope as a way to break the cycle of poverty and set an example for their children and their children's children.
"If my standard is only high school, his child's standard would be high school. We're perpetuating the same cycle, but if I can graduate college and go finish my master's degree, then now my child has a standard to say, 'Well, I at least have to finish my master's degree," said Scruggs.
The statistics back up the stories. Of the kids who finish the program, 86 percent graduate from college.
"You can tell me I talk a certain way, I act a certain way, you can tell me I look a certain way. It doesn't bother me one bit because I know where I'm going and I know what I'm going to do to be successful," said Scruggs. "Boys Hope Girls Hope has allowed me to live life on purpose. They have taught me to be the reason why someone smiles, to dream big, to enjoy every moment and to enjoy the journey, to make every day count because the best is yet to come."
Children typically enter the residential program between the ages of 9 and 14-years-old. Placement is voluntary and the program is fully funded through private donations.
In 2016, five scholars will graduate middle school and move on to high school, five high school scholars will go on to college and two will earn their bachelor's degree.