Every evening from Monday through Thursday, middle school boys gather around a table to have dinner with Y-CAP staff. They’ve done their homework and probably played basketball, and later they’ll dig in to an activity of their choice. For most, this is as close as they get to a structured home life.
“We’ve found that these young men are really looking for three things,” said Andy Smith, regional executive director. “They want structure, something to believe in, and someone to believe in them.”
Y-CAP participants at the Central Avenue location can choose from woodworking, gardening, cooking, and its most well-known activity, boxing. In each activity, students learn practical skills all while spending time with a male mentor. Andy says the impact of fatherlessness is apparent every day.
“Ninety-eight percent of our participants come from fatherless homes,” he said.
Andy’s passion to mentor young men came from his own upbringing. His parents fostered as many as 30 teenagers as he was growing up. To him, the table at Y-CAP isn’t so different from his family’s.
“The community at Y-CAP is strong; it’s something we intentionally create,” Andy said. “Sometimes, after a student graduates our program, we get bad behavior reports from the school. We find out they miss the Y-CAP community and they want to come back.”
Y-CAP seeks to replicate their effective programs beyond downtown Chattanooga. Plans are being made for an Ooltewah location and potentially others.
“The need exists for us to be in every neighborhood,” Andy said. “The more we can involve kids in positive activities, the better our city will become. The problems affecting these young men will have a domino effect to the whole community, but we have the opportunity to change that.”
To learn more about Y-CAP, visit their website. Read more from the Men in Community series during June.