BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: MEET RICHARD FOSTER AND HENRY STEWART OF S AND F ATHLETES
“Do you have the faith to use the skill that you have been given?” That is the question that Richard Foster and Henry Stewart asks all of their students. They are the founders of S and F Athletes— a non-profit, youth mentoring, organization located in the Dallas, Texas area.
“It takes a village and that really is our approach,” says Foster of the organization. Founded in 2011 by Foster and Stewart, S and F Athletes (S and F)–which stands for skill and faith– was created on the premise of providing communal support for economically disadvantaged students, through specialized mentorship programs. Foster continues, “A lot of kids don’t truly know what it feels like to have a big mamma and a support base bigger than just mom and dad.” So, for S and F, it is truly about giving kids that support system in a place that they can feel safe and call their own.
When they started the program, it was originally geared towards student athletes. However, they soon realized that many more students–not just athletes–could benefit from it. By their second year, the two were coordinating afterschool programs in multiple schools, at the middle school and high school levels. The mission of the organization is to mold young men and women into well rounded individuals in education, technology, health and wellness, and life skills. “It’s important that the kids know that we really do care for them,” says Stewart. He and Foster believe that all children deserve the opportunity to learn and to be successful. It is their desire to positively impact children by providing them with the necessary tools to instill confidence and a belief in self.
“Mentoring is non-stop,” declares Foster. With over 30 years combined experience working with the youth, he and Stewart recognized a need to provide them with opportunities to help build their self-esteem and bolster their confidence in the classroom. However, they stress that in order for the program to be successful, the kids have to be able to related to it. “Keeping it real with them helps a lot… asking how their day went and such. They can see that we ain’t trying to fake and shake. You can’t put a dollar amount on what we do,” shares Foster.
Having both worked in the educational system for many years, Foster and Stewart realized a need for a bridge between students, parents, schools and the community. “After many years experience working with young people, we know that schools often cannot supply the counseling, resources and other services that boys and girls need to thrive,” shares Foster. Many of the students that they have seen come through were economically disadvantaged and with little or no guidance, with regards to many aspects of their lives. The founders have carefully designed various mentoring models that their students can easily identify with and take the lessons and tools learned during sessions to apply them in their daily lives.
Unlike other organizations, S and F is peer-to-peer based. They don’t want the student to feel as though the program is just another class. So they are careful to ensure that they students are instrumental in the progress of the group. In addition, at the beginning of each session, students are encouraged to “voicebox”. “This is their chance to vent about whatever they need to vent about,” describes Foster. In a world where a child’s voice is rarely heard, this offers the students an invaluable opportunity to share and hopefully solve problems among their peers.
When it is all said and done, the two agree that having a such a deep and lasting, positive impact on the students is what matters most. “It is important that the kids see that we do care and we won’t let them settle,” says Stewart. For many of the kids, the importance of having men such as Foster and Stewart in their lives extends past an afterschool program. “Building that relationship with them in a positive way from a male perspective is so important, because many of them don’t have male roles models in their lives,” says Foster.
In addition to mentoring the students after school, they both work for the school district. Stewart works in the district’s IT department. Foster is a long-term substitute teacher; he left his permanent position as an educator and coach to invest more time in S and F. Admittedly, like with any other undertaking, they say that there are those days. However, they both agree that there is nothing else that they’d rather be doing. “I’m mentoring every day. The kids come in my office and we have a conversation about what’s going on,” shares Stewart. Adds Foster, “Watching them go from immature kids to young men and women, makes it all worth it.”
In these first years, they admit that they have learned a lot. Though many of those lessons have come the hard way– with time and money being lost along the way. They advise others wanting to start anything to be patient. Like many founders, they wanted to see the organization grow quickly. Along the way they trusted those who said that they could make that happen. Unfortunately, many of those individuals were more concerned with profiting from the organization, rather than supporting it. They are still hopeful and positive for the future. “We are thankful that we have the knowledge and desire to help. We are Christian men trying to make a difference in the world,” shares Stewart.
When it comes to Minding Your Black Business, the two agree that we as a community have to look past ourselves. “People are too concerned with making money, instead of reinvesting,” declares Stewart. “We tend to make the focus on not helping others and so many other races have surpassed us for that reason,” adds Foster. While not everyone carries a selfish attitude, we need more of the self-less to come together if we are to make a lasting change. Foster admits, “I don’t know how we change it, but we have to truly start building up our brothers and sisters.”
Learn more about Richard and Henry’s mentoring efforts with S and F Athletes, by visiting the website.
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