Forty years ago, Father Paul Sheridan started the first Boys Hope Girls Hope home in St. Louis. Seven boys who had great human potential and big dreams, but faced very difficult lives at home and in their neighborhoods, moved in. Father Sheridan knew these young people needed a safe, loving environment with people who believed in them in order to escape their local destiny. When he started BHGH, Father Sheridan said, “Our basic purpose is to take care of children we can help as a matter of social justice. But we believe the end result will be to produce community leaders who might otherwise never have developed.”
Today, BHGH serves over 1,200 children and youth, including 298 in college, through 15 US affiliates and 3 Latin American affiliates. Since 2000, 268 young people who grew up in BHGH programs have graduated from college. They have gone on to become the community leaders Father Sheridan envisioned as dedicated, creative and hardworking teachers, entrepreneurs, scientific researchers, athletes, non-profit administrators, military service men and women and perhaps most importantly, loving spouses, parents and community members who treat the people around them with the same sense of hope, love and concern that they experienced as young people.
As I step into my new role as President and CEO of BHGH during our 40th anniversary year, I am inspired every day by our scholars, collegians and alumni. As I visit our programs in cities with different cultures and histories, a common thread binds our young people together. They have faced hardships and challenges, but have a motivation and determination to not relive as adults the struggles many of their families have faced. With their jokes and smiles, I’m reminded that our scholars are also just kids. They’re shy, bold, mischievous, funny, sweet and thoughtful. They’re full of life and spirit!
When I was in college, I had a unique opportunity to spend a summer working at the King Papers Project at Stanford, where I was able to touch, read and transcribe some of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s original letters. One of the concepts that most impacted me was the idea, that King popularized, of the “beloved community,” in which people of all walks of life worked together with a loving spirit to create opportunities for those in need and build a better society.
The Boys Hope Girls Hope “beloved community” is centered on the precious and powerful young lives in our care. It extends to the staff who prepare spaghetti and salad, brush up on calculus in preparation for a night tutoring session, and spend time listening to our scholars at the end of a long day. It includes the Board member who takes a scholar out to breakfast to discuss her uncertainties about what to study in college. The BHGH “beloved community” is the neighbor who joins the scholars in weeding the lawn on a Sunday just to be a part of the energy and get the work done faster. It includes the Human Resources Director who opens up paid summer internship opportunities in her company to our young people, and the university admissions officer who reaches out to see how more BHGH scholars can find a promising education at his school. Father Sheridan envisioned HOPE for young people in need and a beloved community of people who were seeking to be a part of creating a new society — to make a difference with their lives.
Seth, one of our collegians who grew up at BHGH St. Louis said, “At BHGH, you have this amazing community of successful, smart people who wake up every day thinking about ways to help you and the other scholars in the program be successful. There’s just nothing like it!”
As BHGH turns 40, we are now envisioning what our beloved community will look like over the next ten years. More than ever, the world is in need of leaders, actors and conscious citizens who are truly alive in spirit, who are comfortable in different cultural settings, who create solutions, who work as a team.
Over the next ten years, BHGH will help to support and develop the young leaders who have had experiences at an early age of moving through different cultures and communities, of resolving conflict in creative ways, of working together to solve problems and pursue common projects. They will go into schools, companies, hospitals and non-profits as employees and leaders who make a difference in the lives of the people around them because of who they are and the competencies they’ve developed and strengthened at BHGH.
As our world becomes more interconnected, so will BHGH. We will increasingly create opportunities for our scholars from the US and Latin America to visit each other’s countries, practice second languages and experience new ways of life. We will seek out more university, corporate and non-profit partners who understand that admitting a BHGH scholar to their institution means they have a young person with heart, motivation and persistence joining them, who also comes with a “beloved community” of mentors and supporters with them for the whole journey.
Thank you for being a part of this journey, and a part of our beloved community. You are making a difference, changing lives, and preparing leaders for the next generation.