January 2017, Issue One – The Beardsley Brothers

Integrity, accountability, and commitment are three of the pillars that are a standard for a group of boys at Beardsley Elementary School. This group is visited weekly by mentors who call themselves “Brothers of Elkhart.” The Brothers are a group of Elkhart men who saw not only a need for role models in our community, but an opportunity for a purpose-driven program to help disadvantaged boys become successful young men. Although all are from different backgrounds, these men are like-minded and passionate about their responsibility as community members to make a difference in the future of these students.

Prior to mentoring at Beardsley Elementary School, the Brothers would meet informally at a restaurant in downtown Elkhart. Being Elkhart natives, they grew up together and graduated from Elkhart Community Schools, and recognized a need for community involvement. Although many of them have not had formal training, they offer life experiences, parenting skills, father-son mentality, and an ability to relate to the boys with the right amount of compassion and empathy. The Brothers talk to one another daily, this collaboration is key to their communication and keeping the bond between them strong.

Tracey Degraffreed is one of the Brothers who mentors the boys on a regular basis. Tracey was born and raised in Elkhart without a father in his home, but learned a strong message at an early age from a neighbor in his own community and went on to become a successful business owner. Tracey was taught to “always surround yourself with positive people, and it doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s where you end up.” This is one of the many lessons with which he hopes to inspire these young boys. Tracey knows that with the right role models, education, and commitment these boys will grow up to be successful at anything they hope to achieve.

Cameron Degraffreed, a fireman mechanic mate in the US Navy and his friend, Jose Adgliar, also a fireman mechanic in the U.S. Navy recently visited the group. They inspired the boys with a discussion on making the decision at a young age to make their parents proud, to become who they wanted to be. They let the boys know that it is achievable for them too. Guest speakers and sharing of success stories, as well as struggles, is something the Brothers provide.

Another Brother, Gene Sanders, started mentoring last summer. Gene says he does it out of service and responsibility. He also grew up in a home without a dad, and shows up in his Elkhart Fire Department uniform to encourage the boys. While in uniform, Gene is able to talk to the boys about that uniform and what it means to represent it, whether it be as a firefighter, police officer, or military. Gene is very passionate about sharing his life experiences with the kids. He knows that kids see hard things on a daily basis, but his message to them is, “life is not an excuse for bad behavior and bad choices, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Brothers’ weekly visit with the boys focuses on respect, behavior, social skills, consequences, and life lessons. As you watch the young boys interact with the Brothers, and their visitors from the US Navy, it is clear that they are left with the knowledge and understanding that their future is full of options and possibilities.

Firefighter speaking to a student