Thursday, November 15, 2012

Building the Future, A Story of Hope

The year was 2003, and Brandon McClendon was a self-described “rebellious” 14-year-old. “There were no positive male influences in my life,” he remembers. “I was behind in school and on the verge of dropping out.”
BUT THAT YEAR, Brandon’s mother encouraged him to become involved in a mentoring group led by [Melaleuca] Executive Director V Kevin Smith.
The premise of the group was simple: give young men a taste of entrepreneurship and business by providing access to community leaders. At first, Brandon was a little resistant. But in time, he came to realize he’d been gifted a tremendous opportunity to better his life.
“The summer before 12th grade, I realized I wanted to change a lot of the things I was doing,” Brandon says. “My GPA was 2.2—just horrible—but I worked really hard that year and earned a 4.0 for the fall and spring semesters.”
Scholarship offers soon arrived in the mail from Emory University and Morehouse College. Brandon ultimately went to Georgia Perimeter College and then transferred to Georgia State University, where he graduated with honors in accounting. He recently completed a master’s program and is now seeking to become a certified public accountant.
“I blossomed from a teenager going down the wrong path,” he says, “to a determined college student.”

A Stepping Stone

After running his own executive recruiting firm and establishing a nonprofit organization that helped former inmates transition back into society, Kevin wanted to focus on his true passion: helping young people get their footing in life. And when a handful of parents approached him concerned about the direction their sons were headed, Kevin saw an opportunity.
“When I would talk with their sons, I could see they had good insights in business,” Kevin says. “We wanted to have a program designed to help these young men pursue entrepreneurial endeavors, go to college or pursue whichever path of life they chose.”
The group started out small, and the participants weren’t always willing, but the mentors could see promise in all of them and took an optimistic approach.
“I think everyone there was just like me; we didn’t want to be there, but we just kept coming,” Brandon remembers. “It became a stepping stone for a lot of us, and it challenged us to use our brains in a positive way.”
Over time, the projects evolved with the direction of the participants. They wrote business plans, grouped off into smaller “companies” and even did the occasional outing to a sports event or activity. At one point, Kevin even invented a simple tie protector to demonstrate the process of patenting an invention to the participants.
With their mentors, they discussed business models and strategic planning—“things that kids our age weren’t even thinking about,” Brandon says. They forged bonds and gleaned a better understanding of the world around them.
“We’ve done a lot of fun things together,” Kevin says. “And one of the things that makes this program unique is that we involve the whole family. Many of the boys’ parents are mentors, and many of those parents stay on as mentors after their young men graduate from the program.”
In 2010, the participants, most of whom are between 10 and 13 years old, founded their own corporation—a real corporation—called Men of Valor Enterprise. With a group of young men at the helm, they now plan to launch their own product line and hope to turn a profit.
“There are some real success stories,” says Executive Director II Rick Hayes, whose Melaleuca business helps fund the charitable organization. “Some boys have gone from video games to employment and to making a difference for others.”

Melaleuca and charity foundationsMaking It All Happen

It’s one thing to envision a program like the Smiths’ mentoring program, but it’s something else to fund it. Over the years, the organization has granted 17 scholarships to participants who’ve gone on to attend college. They’ve provided time, support and resources to dozens of young people who’ve discovered a more firm direction through the organization (now called Restoration Community Resource). And, Kevin Smith says, the charitable organization’s main source of funding has been Melaleuca.
“Myrtice enrolled with Melaleuca in December of 2003, and we started the mentoring group that year,” Kevin says. “When we found out about the Charitable Organization program, we enrolled our nonprofit. And from 2004 until now, it has earned $271,449.”
The Smiths’ charitable organization has, in fact, become a model for charitable organizations throughout Melaleuca. “It shows other charitable organizations that Melaleuca is a viable option for funding,” Kevin says. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the Charitable Organization Program. That program impacts hundreds of lives and allows Marketing Executives to make a real difference for others.”
This past summer, Kevin and Myrtice cheered as seven more young men graduated from the program. The guest speaker at the graduation ceremony was none other than Melaleuca Vice President of Sales Johnny Morgison. Many of the boys will continue on to college (one of them even won the prestigious Gates Millennium scholarship, granting him a full ride to the colleges of his choice for 10 years), and some will go straight into the workforce or even start their own businesses. Regardless, all will leave the program with a greater understanding of how to succeed at work and at home.
“We look at it as leaving a legacy for the next generation,” Kevin says. “The youth of today are our future, and we think it’s imperative for programs such as this to positively affect young men.

“Our motto is, ‘Just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do it.’ We make sure they know that there’s no limit on what they can become or what they can do.”

No comments: