Robinson Gardens Youth Group
Robinson Garden Youth Group gets a life lesson
For school counselor George Blake, life’s lessons are simple: Keep yourself out of harm’s way. Call your parents when you’re running late. Treat others as you would be treated. Say what you really mean. Honor your best self.
Those were among the lessons he imparted recently to Springfield Housing Authority’s Robinson Gardens Youth Group, where he addressed a packed room of teens who listened intently – and weren’t afraid to ask questions or make comments.
“When we want to change our lives and our behavior, we have to start with how we think,” said Blake, whose motivational talents were on full display. “You can’t change what you do until you change how you think. That’s where it all starts.”
He went on to give specific advice to the teens who meet every weekday afternoon in the Community Room at Robinson Gardens.
The visit was part of an ongoing series of speakers for the Youth Group, whose leader, Youth Engagement Coordinator Jimmie Mitchell, brings in professional people from the community to share their stories. Frequently, they involve people who rose up through luck, circumstance or, more likely, focus and hard work.
Blake, known locally by his nickname ‘Spanky’, grew up in the Mason Square neighborhood, then known as Winchester Square. In his younger years he frequented the Dunbar Community Center and the Boys Club, focusing on sports and graduating in 1977 from the former Technical High School, where he was a three-star athlete with a love of football, basketball and baseball
He ended up with a basketball scholarship at Fairmont State University, where he learned and played, returning home before finishing. He worked for many years as a guard at the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut, retiring in 2007 to find a new career at the Rebecca Johnson School, where he works with children
to keep them on track for success.
At Robinson Gardens, Blake focused on the same things he does at Rebecca Johnson, his messages directed at a slightly older audience.
“That person you hang out with who’s up to no good? Stop hanging out with that person,” he said. “And when you know you’re going to be home late, call your parents and let them know. Respect your parents.”
Blake shared a specific message with the females in the audience: “Trust yourself more than you trust others. You are born with a spirit and instinct that are unique to you, and you know when something’s not right.”
And to the males: “We have to treat the young ladies like we would want our sisters, or our mothers, or our daughters, to be treated. Learn how to be a gentleman, and then be a gentleman.”
SHA Executive Director Denise Jordan said speakers like Blake are always welcome to share their experiences with teens in public housing any time.
“Mr. Blake is a person who grew up right here in Springfield, and has a positive message to share with our youth. You can’t beat that,” Jordan said.
For the teens in the Youth Group, Blake’s message hit home.
“He was really good,” said Jaleiry Reveron, who is 16 and president of the Youth Group.
“The things he said, and the way he talked, he really made you want to listen. He was telling us things we do and don’t even know about it, but we do now. He changed my perspective on a lot of things,” she said.
Kashawn Lenoir agreed, noting that Blake has a gift for speaking and for making young people rethink their actions.
“He kept our attention,” said Lenoir, also 16. “He made us think about the choices we make and about getting a scholarship to college.”
Mitchell continues to bring in speakers who having inspiring stories to tell, either about growing up or making it professionally in Springfield.
“These kids love to hear from outsiders who have positive things to say,” Mitchell said. “My goal is to bring people in from the community who have a good message to share with them. They need to hear the message that they too can be successful.”
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