In 2013, the faith-based nonprofit Houston:reVision began working with the Spring Branch Independent School District to identify some of its most at-risk students. One of the first they encountered was an eighth grader at Northbrook Middle School whom one school administrator described as “the angriest young man I’ve ever known.” When the student met with one of reVision’s volunteer mentors, he said the program probably wasn’t for him.
“He was getting suspended, he was failing all his classes, he was miserably unhappy,” remembered reVision’s volunteer coordinator, Carrie Leader. “He was one of the few African-Americans in a mostly Latino school, which made him feel alone, and he had a deeply destabilized home environment.”
Leader matched the student with a mentor in his 70s, who began coming to Northbrook once a week to talk with him for an hour. Although they came from vastly different backgrounds, they bonded over their shared love of basketball. Noticing that the student had a habit of constantly pulling his pants up, one week the mentor brought him a pair of his own bright red suspenders. “He wore those suspenders like a medal walking around school,” Leader remembered with a smile. “He was so proud of those things.”
Three years later, that troubled student who seemed on the verge of dropping out is now a rising junior at Northbrook High School making all As. He’s the star of the basketball team and is attending a basketball camp at Texas A&M this summer.
That kind of transformation is almost impossible when children don’t have a positive adult role model—and that’s what reVision provides. “We work with kids that nobody works with,” said Rev. Gregg Taylor, reVision’s “community architect.” “These are kids who the schools basically want to get rid of. They’re ‘too bad.’ Of course, I put that in air quotes because we don’t really believe that.”
The organization was founded in 2012 as a partnership between St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, and the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department. It targets the city’s most troubled kids, whether they’re in school, out of school, on probation, or in prison.
Each child is paired with a mentor—reVision has about 300 overall, most of them from a local faith community—who volunteer to spend one hour a week with their mentee. “We like to say to our volunteers that there are only two things required of you,” Taylor explained. “One, are you a person? And two, can you be someone to a kid who has no one? These kids who are in Child Protective Services or are locked up or are on probation are the epitome of kids who have no one. They’ve got nothing.”
Although the organization was founded by two churches, the volunteers are instructed not to press religion on the children. “We’re not there to proselytize or evangelize,” Leader said. “That’s not on our agenda. We just want to give them a space to be heard and be seen and be loved.”
Giving them that space, as reVision has discovered over and over again, is sometimes all that children need.