Students at the Bowers-Whitley Career Center and the PACE Center for Girls in Hillsborough County have been spending more time with USF students in recent years.
Through two programs of the National Council of Negro Women, Inc. at USF, called Young L.A.D.I.E.S. (Learning and Developing Involvement and Educational Skills) and G.E.N.T.S. (Guiding Encouragement to Navigate Toward Success), a group of USF students has been mentoring local at-risk middle and high school students.
“We basically want to reach out to the students,” Bionqua Lynch, a senior majoring in biology, said. “We want to impact them any way we can. Kind of lead by example.”
Royeal Boykin, a sophomore majoring in psychology and Spanish, said the group tries to teach the students things they wish they were taught, such as how to apply for college, what to do or not to do when they get to college, health issues including safe sex and many other topics that will help them throughout their lives.
But the students are not the only ones being taught life lessons.
Boykin said she has learned much from the girls.
“A lot of times you think that as a mentor you are providing all of the lessons to them,” Boykin said. “But the way they keep a smile on their face when they are going through all of these huge problems in their life — it really teaches me not to sweat the small things.”
Amber Mosley, a junior majoring in mass communications and current president of the USF chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, said the program is important to the council because many of the members come from different backgrounds — some similar to the students they are working with.
“We know what it feels like,” Mosley said. “We want to take the time to go back and give back, and let these students know that this is not their last stop. They have their whole life to live.”
Mosley said the group hopes to help the at-risk students realize that they can follow their dreams no matter what obstacles stand in their way or what people tell them they can’t do.
On Friday, Lynch helped organize a banquet for the students, more lavish than any previous ones.
About 50 of the 80 students currently in the programs dressed in their finest dresses and suits and were treated to a special dinner donated from Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Longhorn Steakhouse.
“I had a vision of just making the banquet something special for them,” Lynch said. “I wanted everyone to be dressed up and to be able to practice the etiquette skills we have been teaching to them. I wanted them to get to know each other and I wanted them to have the best meal ever.”
Boykin said she has noticed a real difference in many of the students who gone through the program. Many have graduated high school and are now attending college.
Lynch said she hopes students keep the messages of the program with them even after they leave.
“You can’t become something great if you haven’t been through any trials,” Lynch said. “You have to go through the struggles. It helps you become a stronger person and helps you push even further to where you are going.”