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Mentors help Fred travel a different path

May 18, 2015

Fred2015Fred recently was hired by a national airline to work in their computer-programming department.

It’s the culmination of years of hard work and making tough choices. It’s the beginning of a new chapter, one where Fred has begun to give back and share his story.

“I want to write a book about coming out of this,” he said. “A message of hope, a message of coming out of foster care, forgiving your parents and being the change you want to see happen.”

At the core of Fred’s journey were the people who guided, mentored and supported him through triumphs and difficulties. Fred didn’t choose the easy way. He was valedictorian at his high school and graduated cum laude from Jackson State University. Fred didn’t stumble into success. He made it through careful choices and has laid the groundwork to do more.

During high school, he met former NFL player Tyrone Keys. They formed a quick and close bond through a common coach, Odell Jenkins. After high school, Fred enrolled at Mississippi State University and earned a spot on the football team as a walk-on. Keys, who also played football at MSU, saw a lot of himself in Fred.

“Fred showed leadership qualities when he was in high school,” Keys said. “But I’m just one of a whole lot of people who are helping — it takes a team.”

At Mississippi State, Fred began participating in YVLifeSet, a Youth Villages program that helps former foster youth make a successful transition to adulthood. Fred’s story was well known among staff at Youth Villages, and after he spoke with Youth Villages CEO Patrick Lawler during the organization’s annual conference, Fred had found another team member.

“I surrounded myself with wise people and heeded their advice,” Fred said. “I can’t emphasize enough how important mentors were to me.”

Because of responsibilities to his family in addition to many other expenses and a full courseload in college, Fred chose to stop playing football and to focus on school. Fred said his heart wasn’t in it any more. Keys was also there. He told Fred that football wasn’t for everyone.

“Fred had been blessed to travel a different path,” Keys said. “He’s one of a kind. All kids don’t wake up at the same time.”

Out of football, Fred focused on his studies. Keys tells a story about an extracurricular program Fred was a part of that required a presentation. Fred put the presentation together on his cellular phone. He told Fred he should consider computer programming as a career.

In the meantime, Lawler was learning more about young people in the YVLifeSet program.

“I remember asking during a meeting, ‘How many more like Fred does Youth Villages have?'” Lawler said. “‘Who’s been pulled down by life, trauma and a lack of confidence?'”

From there, YVLifeSet expanded and changed into a service customized for each young person. In YVLifeSet, Fred had the support to push himself to do more. In turn, he challenged the YVLifeSet program.

“At first we didn’t have the means to be more individual with the service, but Fred inspired us,” Lawler said. “We began to look more closely at what the young people needed.”

Fred was one of the original 12 YVLifeSet youth who launched the YV Scholars program. These 12 received extra support for college provided they maintained rigorous academic and community service requirements.

“We decided to grow and expand the YVLifeSet program into the YV Scholars,” Lawler said. “Fred, as well as others, became ambassadors for us and our programs.”

At Jackson State University, Fred continued his education and aggressively sought internships. He relied on family supports to help with his two children, and often volunteered for Jackson-area civic groups and nonprofits. He began telling his story wherever he could. He maintained a cadre of mentors, people who counseled and listened to him.

“YVLifeSet helped me with what I needed,” Fred said. “It was a two-way street. I had the confidence someone had my back, and YVLifeSet was there to assist me when I needed help.”

Fred expects an adjustment period to get used to his new surroundings and new job, but his passion for helping others continues.

“I understand it’s not about me any more,” he said in a 2013 profile from Jackson State University. “…It’s about going back and sharing what I have been through and inspiring others that they can make it.”

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