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This year has been an important one for Boys Grow. In February, the organization received its 501(c)3 status and ended its official affiliation with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Anderson now oversees four seasonal employees. And Gordon is committed to finding a piece of farmland within a 30-minute drive of downtown for Boys Grow to purchase by the next growing season. He wants to build a set of greenhouses, designed by Anderson, to allow for year-round farming. He envisions a permanent structure in which mentors would lead classes on public speaking or Web development. It's about moving from ad hoc to at home, on an organization campus.
But Gordon is still figuring out just what his organization's role should be in the lives of the boys who graduate. At 15, most can't find a job — and in the current economy, neither can their parents. Though Gordon believes that he's teaching them skills to navigate on their own, his instinct is to keep mentoring them after they leave Boys Grow. His model remains Big Brothers Big Sisters, but right now he's the only big brother in Boys Grow. His concern is compounded because what the boys do after graduation will define the program's success in the eyes of the community.
In an effort to allay that concern, Gordon tested an apprenticeship program this year with a member of YouthBuild (a program for 17- to 24-year-olds that teaches construction skills in conjunction with GED preparatory classes). He discovered that it was difficult for a teenage boy to act as a supervisor rather than a peer in the program. He has also been in talks with downtown restaurants about the possibility of a three-week culinary summer camp, where Boys Grow participants interested in cooking could learn kitchen skills.
"I know I need help," Gordon says. "If it's just me, I'll be spread too thin."
It's a bit after noon on a Saturday, and Cesar stands in front of the Hen House supermarket at 119th Street and Roe in Leawood. His hair is spiked, and he's wearing a pair of royal-blue Adidas high-tops. He scans shoppers as they head for the front door. When he makes eye contact with someone, he's ready to talk about Boys Grow.
A deft salesman, he extends his left hand toward a pair of blue tents where five of his fellow program participants are grilling hot dogs and hamburgers from Good Natured Family Farms and selling Boys Grow ketchup and salsa.
"It's good to see kids do something other than hang," says Diana Endicott, the farm-to-market coordinator for Good Natured Family Farms. Good Natured has supplied the meat for this cookout; members of the regional growing collective have given Gordon steady advice and support. "This isn't just about the food. If we support the boys, we get a better community," Endicott says. "And the kids get to see what happens with a little hard work."
In four hours, the boys will raise close to $500. Enzo, a 14-year-old with a wicked sense of humor, is in charge of the cardboard ketchup box that is being used to hold the cash.
"I hold a dollar and think about all the things that people did with it," he says. "You hold that dollar and you're time-traveling."
"Sell me," says a blond-haired woman as she steps under the canopy of the blue tent.
"Well, Boys Grow is a ... entrepreneurship," starts Gabriel, a 13-year-old first-year. He looks at Deon, who moves in to make the save.
"Boys Grow is an organization that helps inner-city kids learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship," Deon tells the woman. Two minutes later, she walks away with a burger and a bottle of ketchup.