These neighbors give their time to improve the lives of Lake Highlands’ youth. From after-school programs to mentoring and providing meals, the children of our neighborhood receive the compassion and service they need.

Photo cred: Danny Fulgencio

Zach Garza had a tough childhood.

In his podcast, “You Can Mentor,” he’s open about his parents’ split and abandonment struggles, such as being unable to tie a tie for his eighth-grade dance and not knowing how to shave properly until he was 25.

Garza was on a path without direction or anyone to guide him. Fortunately, he gained a mentor in college who changed his life by showing up and speaking truth.

For the first time, a male figure was open and honest about the things he saw in Garza, good and bad. He gave Garza someone to look up to.

“Sometimes we like to make mentoring a whole lot more complicated than it actually is,” Garza says. “Mentoring is really just investing into the life of someone in an intentional way.”

As a coach at Lake Highlands Junior High, many of the kids reminded him of his former self; they had a lot of potential, they were good kids, but they could benefit from some guidance, attention, love and acceptance. So he created Forerunner Mentoring in 2009, received nonprofit status in 2011 and went full-time in 2015.

“One of the main questions that we ask ourselves here is, ‘If a boy grows up in a home where there’s no positive role model, then who is going to teach that child how to become a successful person?’” Garza says.

Forerunner has expanded to include an after-school program that serves students from every elementary that feeds into LHJH. The day is split into three sections: fun, character and academics.

“We focus in on something new each month, so this month we are talking about how to take initiative, so we talk about that. We talk about how to be respectful, how to care for others. They’re just the soft skills to help our kids look more like Jesus,” Garza says.

While the Forerunner after-school program is open to all boys, the mentoring program is specifically for boys without a father figure. Mentors are encouraged to spend time with their kids at least every other week.

The group also provides a network for mothers.

“It is of the utmost importance that we be on the same page as mom and that we are doing everything that we can to help her flourish as she leads her family,” he says. “We believe that it is not good for a person to be alone, so we try to just provide friendships for our moms, we try to provide community for them so that they don’t feel like they’re doing this whole thing by themselves.”

Socials for single mothers offer a chance for them to meet and mingle, eat dinner together and talk about life and parenting.

“I have a lot of compassion for my mom as I look back at my childhood. I just can’t imagine how difficult it was to not only provide for the family but also to try to turn a boy into a man,” Garza says. “That really is what I see with these moms is that they have sacrificed so much just to give their kids the best opportunity for them to fulfill their potential.”