When he was coaching football at Lake Highlands Junior High, Zach Garza asked his players if any were living without a father. All around him players raised their hands, but Tw’quan Clayton  lowered his head quietly.

“I didn’t want anyone to know,” he remembers now about that day in 2011.

Today, Tw’quan is a funny, confident senior, preparing for college and excelling on the Wildcat wrestling team. His mom says she isn’t sure where he’d be, though, without the Forerunner Mentoring program Garza started or the mentor her son was paired with – Jonathan Hafemann.

“I don’t feel like a single mom anymore,” says mom, Shangela. “Jonathan is not just a mentor to my son, he is also a mentor to me. And I love him.”

But it wasn’t always easy.

“I was a little skeptical at first,” admits Shangela. “I didn’t know what to think of Jonathan. I wasn’t welcoming at first. I tried to put on a front to be respectful, but there was a trust factor going on. I was scared more than anything.”

After a few fits and starts – and connections over LSU football – Jonathan and Tw’quan began to learn from each other, and the mentoring continues.

Since the program was featured in Advocate Magazine in 2012, Forerunner has expanded to reach boys in elementary school. The program connects volunteers with 6 boys at Northlake today, with plans to add 8 next year and 8 the next. Other elementaries will follow.  At last night’s Christmas party, the boys shared lessoned they’d learned, including meanings of words like humility (“putting others first”), wisdom (“knowing what is expected of you and doing it”), forgiveness (“it makes your heart bigger”) and discernment (“choosing the right friends”). They learn, before making any decision, to THINK: Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? And they learn: Hard work leads to good grades. Good grades lead to college. College leads to a good job. A good job leads to the ability to provide for you and your loved ones.

New this year is Forerunner’s Family Ministries, led by Zach’s wife, Sara.

“Our mission is to encourage, support, pursue and love the families of our Forerunners,” says Sara. Wives of mentors (and other caring women) contact moms of Forerunners (students) through text or phone call to encourage the moms and praise their hard work. Shangela, for one, says the women made a difference.

“They were supportive, encouraging, amazing,” she lauds. “Every time something has gone wrong, the next morning I’ve had a call or text from Sara saying, ‘I’m praying for you’ and I’d think, ‘how’d she find out?’ I’m so grateful. I hope they keep the prayers coming.”

“We can pour into these kids all day,” says Zach, “but if they go home to a house that isn’t filled with love and support, then it’s going to be hard for them to succeed. These moms are incredible. They work so hard for their children and they don’t ever have time for themselves. It’s so fun to come alongside and help them out.”

Zach recently left teaching and coaching to devote full time to Forerunner. The need in Lake Highlands is great, he says, and the payoff even greater.

If you’d like to help, you can learn how to become a mentor on the Forerunner website here. You can make a financial contribution here.