Registration still open for local mentorship program for boys

Mentor Nehemiah Johnson Jr., adjusts a bow tie around inductee Michael Williams during a 2016 graduation ceremony put on by the former Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club, now consolidated under Lowcountry Youth Services.

Learning the basics of gentlemanly behavior—how to approach girls, tie a tie and treat peers, for example—is the key goal of the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club, now accepting applications for the upcoming school year.

Now operating under the umbrella group Lowcountry Youth Services, based in Hanahan, DGC previously maintained multiple chapters throughout the tri-county and works with boys in grades 3 through 12. They learn manners, confidence and other valuable life skills to help them succeed in the future and shy away from falling into drugs or crime.

“Our motto is ‘Every child wins’ so trying to create programs that will ensure we’re creating the mission we set out to achieve,” said ReZsaun Lewis, executive director of Lowcountry Youth Services.

But don’t characterize the club as a reform group for misfits or misbehaved boys; it’s quite the opposite, according to Lewis.

“Our program is not for disadvantaged kids or troubled kids,” he said. “It’s for kids who want to be better; if you want to be better than yesterday, then our program is for you.”

In addition to the DGC, Lowcountry Youth Services offers “The Harbor After School” program—a place for students to study, read and receive free tutoring—and “The Exchange”—a partnership with Berkeley County’s Juvenile Justice Department to provide youth an alternative to juvenile detention.

In addition to boy participants, DGC is also seeking adult volunteers interested in conducting one-on-one mentoring, event planning, administrative duties and/or community advocacy work.

A former teacher and father of five, Lewis now works full-time with an area nonprofit in Charleston but remains passionate about transforming youth’s lives, understanding that not every child has access to equal opportunities and guidance growing up.

“If we give them a chance to talk, (children) will open up to us,” Lewis said.

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Lewis instructs students at St. Stephen Elementary School in Berkeley County.

From a total of 92 boys and 35 mentors participating in the club last year, the roster has more than doubled since its humbler beginnings of 35 boys enrolled with the DCG Summerville chapter in 2016.

“It’s been amazing to see us come from where we started to where we are,” Lewis said. “It has really been a dream come true.”

While the organization is based in Hanahan, every year the club receives enrollment from students across the entire tri-county. In addition to classroom instruction and group field trips, the children delve into deep topics like dating, racism and depression.

“They are growing up in a time that we couldn’t imagine with the pressures of social media,” Lewis said.

And the results have been life-changing.

“I’ve seen us save many lives,” Lewis said. “There’s been young men who’ve been up for expulsion who I’ve spoken at their expulsion hearings.”

But the learning is a two-way street—adults involved in the program also feeling the impact of their leadership roles, according to Lewis.

“We have so much to learn from kids,” he said. “I’ve learned to listen to them and value what they have to say because they have something to offer.”

The club program runs August through June. Enrollment is open through Aug. 24.

For more information, visit lowcountryyouth.org, call 843-747-8083 or checkout Lowcountry Youth Services on Facebook.

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