Program celebrates youth achievements

Antonio Hayes, 17, embraces a mentor while receiving the “Most Distinguished Gentleman’s Award” on Saturday.

An awards ceremony Saturday evening celebrated nearly 100 male youths for the good things they’ve accomplished both in school and in their communities throughout the tri-county area.

The third annual ceremony, hosted by the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club, offered trophies and certificates for displaying academic excellence, community service and positive character. Nominations for the awards came from community leaders, teachers, guidance counselors and men who mentor the youths through the club.

North Charleston police officer Ricardo Perry formed the mentoring program in 2010. It since has grown to benefit more than 100 boys this year, ages 9 to 17, from throughout the tri-county, he said.

“Some join just for the brotherhood,” he said, adding that members gather monthly to complete service projects with local food banks, Habitat for Humanity and for other activities.

“We have to enforce that positive behavior. Kids need to know that doing the right thing is cool,” Perry said. “And they need to know that we notice and see them putting forth that effort.”

Diamonie Carroll, 13, chatted among friends while waiting to collect at least one award for academic excellence. Asked what he enjoyed most about the program, Diamonie, a Hanahan Middle School student, responded: “the fun days.”

“Sometimes we play dodge ball, basketball, stuff like that,” he said.

Tremaine Washington, also 13, described his time spent in the program as “inspirational” as other boys at his table nodded in agreement.

The awards ceremony is the program’s largest event each year, Perry said. Roughly 250 people — a mix of parents, mentors and mentees — attended this year’s ceremony at Hanahan Middle School.

State. Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, served as the event’s keynote speaker, encouraging the youths to channel their talents toward making a difference in the world.

“There was a time in our society when we understood it took a village to raise a child,” Kimpson said. “It took a village then and it takes a village now. We must look out for one another and love each other.”

North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers also was in attendance.

North Charleston mother Vannessa Curd, 32, put her two boys, 12 and 13, in the program last year after they began displaying behavioral issues in school, she said.

“The first year was rough,” she said, though the boys soon grew to look forward to activities.

“It helps build the boys up and it gives my boys the opportunity to communicate with other men in a positive manner,” Curd said.

For more information, visit www.connectionsandyouinc.com.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.