It was city league basketball season, and Marion had volunteered to coach a league basketball team at Stratton. In addition to catching the boys’ rebounds, he was passing on to them the same kind of encouragement he had received from a caring mentor as a boy growing up in an isolated hollow in Hancock County.
When those seven little boys began to do better in school, Marion was asked to take on more. He agreed, capping their number at 14 — because that was all the church van he was borrowing to the drive the team would hold.
Twenty-five years and hundreds of boys and girls later, the faith-based youth mentoring program that grew from that first little basketball team is still at it, matching kids with mentors, encouraging them to do better in school, teaching them how to succeed in their relationships, coaching them in basketball and walking with them toward brighter futures.
Brieyonna Robinson, a 26-year-old former Science Hill High School basketball player who now works as TV and film actress in Los Angeles, was one of those youngsters. She came to Rise Up when the program, known for many years as Boys to Men, first added “Girlfriends.” She was 10 years old and recalls Rise Up was was still meeting in borrowed classrooms.
“My home was broken. My father was not in my life. And I was trying to figure out who I was,” she said. “Rise Up helped me do that. Rise Up taught me to to become a lady. Ms. Debbie (Taylor) and Ms. Sherry (Marion) and Libby (Ames) were my mentors. They instilled in me that no matter what happens, you have a heavenly father. They taught me to be proud of myself and to love myself. They watered my flower.”
Brieyonna stayed with Rise Up through high school and college, first as a participant, then as volunteer and finally as a part of the staff. She recalls the program was meeting at Central Baptist Church when it found its current building and everyone prayed.
Rise Up eventually secured that building, a segregation-era school at 1500 E. Millard St., where community volunteers helped with extensive renovations. They dubbed it the The Refuge, and today it is the home to three main Rise Up programs: an after-school program for students in kindergarten through eighth grade; a small group mentoring program; and an adult mentoring program for under-resourced kids.
Marion said the focus of each of the programs and of “everything we do” is to help kids do well in school, to help them find their passions, to connect them with mentors and to develop their faith.
The mentoring programs continue through high school, and several years ago Rise Up set its goal at helping 100 kids continue from high school to college, trade school or military service. By 2020, Marion expects the goal will be met and exceed with 118 former Rise Up kids either serving in the military or attending or graduated from a college or technical schools.
If a kid stays with Rise Up three years or longer, Marion said the probability of the program making that type of impact is good. If they do not stay three years, “at least they will remember there was this place where they were loved and had good times.”
To celebrate all of the program’s success and to build toward the future, Rise Up will host an anniversary dinner and its first cash raffle Sept. 18 at Grace Fellowship Church. The program will include success stories told by adults who were Rise Up kids at the program’s beginning and highlights of its past 25 years.
The dinner is free and everyone is invited, including all those who have been involved in Rise Up over the years and those who would like to hear more about it. Marion said it is a fundraising dinner; there will be an invitation for those who wish to make a contribution. Dinner registration is required to help with the preparations.
Raffle tickets are $20 and include a chance at the $5,000 grand prize and several smaller cash prizes. A maximum of 2,500 raffle tickets will be sold.
Raffle tickets are available at Rise Up, Marion’s Open Doors Coffee Shop on North Roan Street, Misaki Japanese Steakhouse on Bristol Highway, C.S. McCollough’s barber shop, the Holy Taco cantina downtown and Yates Agency Nationwide insurance offices.
For more information, visit riseupforkids.com or the Rise Up for Kids page on Facebook, or call Rise Up at 423-610-1242.
Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.