ST. PETERSBURG –Three years ago, Jack Fletcher and some of his fellow Gibbs High School alums met for dinner to catch up on old times and came up with a way to give back to the community.
“With our camaraderie and our talking, we became concerned about the present condition in south St. Petersburg,” the 67-year-old Fletcher explained, adding that this was before any articles came out about the underperforming area schools that the Tampa Bay Times calls “failure factories.”
More meetings followed about the state of things for the youth of St. Pete, and Fletcher and the others ultimately decided to form a group of “concerned gentlemen” to see what they could do to make a difference. That group became the Men of Yesterday, Today and the Future, Inc., and Fletcher became the organization’s president.
“We just started doing what we do,” he said. “Showing that we care.”
According to their mission statement, the members of the nonprofit group “bring together different skills, professions, educational levels and life experiences” and their common ground is that they are dedicated to empower and improve their community while leaving a legacy for others to follow.
The members’ backgrounds are varied as Fletcher himself is a retired firefighter, while others in the group are retired educators, such as the group’s mentor trainer James Oliver. Fletcher noted that they are a cross-section of people who are committed to helping the youth of St. Pete.
Members often offer one-on-one mentoring to students from elementary school age up to high school. When they are paired with a child, Fletcher said, they are committed to seeing that child through to graduation. Mentors visit area schools to speak to the children, as Fletcher said they have a “hands on” approach to their mentoring.
“We try to encourage them and point out the importance of education,” he said. “We stress careers versus just a job. All the while, it reinforces the fact that education is what separates a career from a job in that careers usually demand continuing education.”
During these conversations, the mentors talk to the young people and discuss things such as problem-solving, their dreams, their plans and their hopes for the future.
“If you’ve got a dream, you’ve got to have a plan,” Fletcher said. “If plan A doesn’t work out, what’s going to be plan B? We talk to them about the reality of living.”
Men of Yesterday, Today and the Future is also involved with the Winning Reading Boost program, which seeks to make learning to read easier for elementary and middle school students. Mentors ask children what their interests are and find books that match that interest, be it horses or basketball or anything else.
The organization does need more bodies, as Fletcher put it, as he would like to have more volunteers to mentor the youngsters.
“I have seen some children that are transformed,” he said. “It does make a difference, just letting a child know that you care about their educational well-being…some kids need a little more individual coaxing.”
The schools select the children to be mentored, Fletcher explained, but the group tries to focus on a child who has the ability but for some reason is not performing at his level. More community involvement is key, he said, adding that he’d like to see a younger group of men taking over the reins eventually.
“We’re looking for younger, responsible people,” Fletcher said, as many of his fellow Gibbs High alums graduated in the 1960s and early ‘70s, and want new generations to carry on the work in the future.
“We’re just a group of guys who care and we’re trying to give back,” Fletcher said.
For information about volunteering for Men of Yesterday, Today and the Future, contact Jack Fletcher at (727) 424-7670 or firstname.lastname@example.org.