If you’ve cheered the great work of girls and their moms volunteering in Lake Highlands through the National Charity League, organizers of the Young Men’s Service League say altruism is where similarities between the organizations end. When the Lake Highlands chapter of the YMSL kicked off in May, new recruits were assured – there’ll be no tea parties.
The national program, founded in Plano in 2001, hosts up to 30 participants in grades 9-12 (the LH chapter started with 9-11 graders) and adds a new class of freshmen each year. Moms and boys agree to at least ten hours of service together and ten hours each with other boys or moms.
Alison Sibley and Kristen Barnett serve together as presidents of the group and welcomed members from Bishop Lynch, Jesuit, Covenant and Lake Highlands High in the founding classes.
“We wanted there to be diversity of schools and not just have the boys hanging out with the buddies they see every day,” explains Sibley. “Meeting new people boosts their social skills as they meet new people and serve them.”
The three pillars of the organization are philanthropy, education and leadership, but fostering the mother-son relationship is beneficial too, she says.
Programs have included a Dallas police officer, who explained what might happen if students were pulled over for drinking and how their lives might be forever changed. Lake Highlands Automotive sent reps to teach the basics of car care, and another talk centered around how to tie a tie. A financial planning session for junior boys encouraged them to set a goal – perhaps to pay for homecoming festivities – then set a budget and plan for income.
Recruitment has been by word of mouth, with moms and boys inviting friends likely to complete the challenging program.
“We don’t want people to feel like this is a social club. It’s not,” says Barnett. “Of course we want to have fun and connect and network, but it’s hard work. It’s a commitment. We want people who want to work for the community, to spend time with their son, to put in the hours – not because their son’s best friend is doing it and they don’t want him to be left out. You’ve got to be passionate about it, because if you don’t pull your weight, everyone else feels that.”
The boys have picked up trash at White Rock Lake, packaged meals for Feed My Starving Children, served at Diversicare retirement home and built wheelchair ramps with the Texas Ramps Project, and additional service is planned in the spring with Hunger Busters, the Carson Leslie Foundation, the Wilkinson Center and other charities approved by the national organization.
“Hopefully when they get to college, they’ll know how to volunteer,” says Sibley. “Wherever they end up, they’ll get involved in the community.”
Not every ninth grade boy is thrilled to begin four years of service, admits Barnett, whose son, Andy, is a ninth grader at LHHS. “It usually begins with the mom saying my son needs this.”
“And moms can be enthusiastic about it,” agrees Sibley, whose son, Owen, is a freshman at Bishop Lynch. “We’ll go to a service project then go to dinner. They love it.”
“My son needed this,” says Barnett. “He needed a new perspective on the world. He’s been in his own little bubble, but his favorite thing has been Diversicare. At first, he didn’t know what to do or say. Now he asks to go. They know him there, and he feels good when he leaves.”
Serving together strengthens bonds between moms and sons during pivotal years, says Sibley.
“It’s another connection point. For boys who play sports, the dads can go out and throw a ball, but this gives us time – time in the car and discussion points. I’m watching my son’s world view expand. I’m watching him see a need and step in to fill it. We live in a privileged area and our kids don’t want for much, so it’s good to see them try and make a difference.”
“You do see a pride in them when they finish,” agrees Barnett. “My son is out of his comfort zone with this stuff, and I love that.”