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fall 2021

Dream Makers

Boys Hope Girls Hope Helps Disadvantaged Students Reach Their Potential
Written by: Jeff Friend

Greg Scruggs knows the importance of teamwork in achieving success. As a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Seattle Seahawks (XLVII) and the New England Patriots (LI), he has experienced the thrill of fulfilling a dream and reaching a goal.

Crucially, his journey toward those championship rings began as an 11-year-old Cincinnati child who enrolled in the local Boys Hope Girls Hope affiliate after his father passed away, a decision that impacted his life forever.

“It provided you this idea that you really can go do things,” Scruggs recalls of his years with the program created to help academically capable children and teens rise above disadvantaged backgrounds. “The places that the program put you in, the people that it put you around, provided you with this idea of hope that you can be and do whatever it is that you want to be and do.”

Started in 1977 by Jesuit priest Father Paul Sheridan, SJ, Boys Hope Girls Hope’s mission is “to nurture and guide motivated young people in need to become well-educated, career-ready men and women for others.”

Headquartered in St. Louis, the organization has 14 affiliates across the United States— among them Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and New Orleans—and two international sites (Guatemala and Mexico). There are 250 staff members in the network and over 300 people serve on local boards.

Boys Hope Girls Hope works with children in disadvantaged situations where something is wrong at home or they are just living in a neighborhood where they are trapped in the cycle of poverty. Of the 1,200 young people (who are called scholars) currently served, 72% come from households living below the United States’ poverty line and 93% are people of color.

It’s not a mandated program. “We look for kids who have kind of a spark, they’re motivated, they’ve got drive, they want to be in the program,” says President and CEO Kristin Ostby. “These are kids who are like, ‘I have big dreams and I’m kind of stuck in this situation. I need help to be able to reach my dreams.’”

Impressive results
Scholars are placed in either a Residential format—typically consisting of eight students and three staff members—for those unable to remain at home or on an Academy pathway for those who continue living with their families.

Seventh grade is “kind of the sweet spot,” says Ostby, “because we can work with them in those middle school years and get them ready for high school.”

Boys Hope Girls Hope partners with schools that are college-prep oriented, and the strong focus on education has produced impressive results. Of their high school seniors, 99% enter college and 90% continue their college careers. The organization has been recognized by the Educational Policy Institute for its model of helping young people progress from poverty through college.

Boys Hope Girls Hope alumni have excelled across the board, from the military to corporate and technology environments, as teachers and social workers, and in many other careers. Watching the scholars progress through the program and become thriving and successful adults excites Ostby. Additionally, the program strongly emphasizes the importance of serving others.

“We work with the young people from an early age to understand this path is not just about you being successful,” Ostby says, “but you being a change agent for others as you go out into the world.”

Now the organization’s international spokesman and on the Board of Directors, Scruggs enjoys encouraging scholars to serve others—something that has always been a deep personal belief. “There’s nothing in the world that I like to do more than to serve,” he says. “I took more pride in being a good teammate than I did being a really good football player.”

Local impact
Like most nonprofit organizations, Boys Hope Girls Hope had to adapt and be nimble amid the many challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic. The organization had to “come together like never before,” Ostby says. That involved schooling from home and schooling live, “so we had to be able to really shift gears and meet the needs for the kids wherever we were and whatever that meant.”

Boys Hope Girls Hope launched a new program called ALL IN (Act. Learn. Lead.) that had been developed before the pandemic. It connects scholars with “inspirational people who have had tough situations in their lives and overcame and are leaders,” Ostby says.

Among those scholars hear from are Dr. Rigoberta Menchu, a K’iche’ Guatemalan human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate; Janice Mirikitani, San Francisco’s second Poet Laureate, who survived living in internment camps in the U.S. following World War II; and Dan Isom, former St. Louis police chief.

The scholars then look at issues in their community such as homelessness, racism and mental health problems and develop local projects to address them. Ostby hopes the initiative becomes permanent and extends to other organizations and schools.

It’s not just current scholars who benefit from Boys Hope Girls Hope. Ostby says that alumni, volunteers, board members, and anyone associated with the organization remains a part of the close-knit relationships that nurture the love, hope and educational growth that comprise the core of the organization.

Boys Hope Girls Hope also aids in bringing together a diverse mixture of people who live in a different part of the same city but might never otherwise cross paths. “Now you’re having family dinners, you’re going on outings to your corporate office,” says Ostby. “So at this time where our world continues to have so much friction around race and class, I love how it brings people together from different backgrounds.”

We have to think differently about education, about technology, about the jobs that are out there today, about travel and globalization.

Positive change
The organization will continue to find ways to adapt to the changing needs of its scholars. “We’ve had this year that we’re just trying to make sense of and get through it,” Ostby says. “So we have to think differently about education, about technology, about the jobs that are out there today, about travel and globalization. So I think it’s about saying, ‘How do we meet our mission and have an impact in a context that is completely and quickly changing?’”

Scruggs embraces the Boys Hope Girls Hope program because he’s a living example of its effectiveness. He recalls how it was his path out of his rough childhood neighborhood to a brighter future.

When you take me out of that environment,” explains Scruggs, “put me in a house in a safe place that you provide more resources for me to be successful, I now will become a product of my environment—nothing but success, overachievers, people who are academically driven, and motivated people who want to succeed in life. Then [there are also] the resources and the reinforcement and reassurance of all the people involved in the program to say, ‘You can do it. Don’t give up.’”

And Boys Hope Girls Hope will be with them each step of the journey to a life of personal success and service to others.

Jeff Friend is a widely published, award-winning freelance writer. He lives in Florida with his wife, Nancy.