The little boy sat in the van, lost in thought. He and a group of other boys in a summer camp were riding back from a homeless shelter in Detroit where they served food to chronically homeless people. One of the men told them how his lifelong struggle with homelessness was brought on by poor decisions he made when he was young.
Marcus was a difficult participant in the camp. The boy complained, caused problems and never got on board with the camp’s aim to salvage young boys through positive role models, character education and community service projects and field trips. But this day, Marcus listened to the man’s story. And he cried. It had made a difference.
“He told me he had been homeless for three months one time,” says Norman Hurns, a high school social studies teacher who started the camp. “They got kicked out and moved around to shelters. He kept saying, ‘I thought I was the only one.’ That man’s story turned him around.”
The camp is one of the programs run by BMAD—Brothers Making A Difference—a nonprofit organization started by Hurns, a 1994 education graduate, and his Xavier roommate, Walter Winston.
As a teacher, Hurns saw so many students held back by multiple social problems that he started BMAD as an after-school intervention program in 2003. Two years later when he moved to another school district, he reorganized BMAD to target younger boys. His research showed that reaching kids at younger ages can deter them from poor choices that lead to failure in high school.
The goal is to develop in boys a sense of responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities to counter the negative images many experience in their neighborhoods and even at home. “If we don’t deal with them now, we’re laying the foundation for problems developing later on,” Hurns says.
BMAD still operates an after-school enrichment program, but summer camp is its main focus. Every summer, up to 35 boys attend an 18-day camp that includes field trips and activities around health, recreation, math and science, technology, life skills and character education. They explore real-life issues like work and fatherhood. They go places, like homeless shelters to serve people who are worse off than they are. And they make a difference.