Over the last few years, the Columbia Town Center Rotary Club has taken a special interest in a program nearby that provides young men with a second chance at life. These young men have met with struggles and challenges in their lives so that, without the care and environment given to them by Our House, they might otherwise be lost to their friends, family and the community.
Our House, located on a 140-acre farm in Brookeville, is an in-resident job skills training program that includes vocational training, academic instruction and life skills training.
Its website, www.our-house.org, states: “The mission of Our House is to provide the opportunity for at-risk adolescents to become happy, healthy, and productive. The Our House Program is more than just a job skills training program. It includes development of the entire individual, providing the trainees with a full set of skills for success.”
Our House History
Since opening its doors in 1993, more than 382 youths have graduated from the program, and most are living and working in their communities as independent and successful adults.
Its founder, Richard Bienvenue, has more than 44 years’ experience as an educator and counselor. His devotion for teaching youth was so intense that he decided to resign his position as a special education teacher in the public school system in order to concentrate on those vulnerable and most at-risk boys whom he feared were on their way to spending their lives behind bars.
Bienvenue had one single idea that gave birth to the Our House program: He needed to extricate these troubled youths from their toxic environment and afford them the opportunity to live, learn and mature in a calm and supportive environment.
In an appearance on “Oprah” he explained: “I taught them construction in the daytime, but they went home at night; that was their downfall. After doing it for a couple of years, I realized that if you want to really teach these kids, then you have to do it in a residential setting — it’s imperative.”
The Rotary Connection
The Columbia Town Center Rotary Club supports the Our House program with indirect mentorship in the form of outings and a year-end gift exchange. Over the last few years, club members have taken different groups of trainees to baseball games and a Navy Football game, invited the young men to participate in the then-annual Rotary Boat Float, arranged for a tour of Camden Yards, and even grilled hamburgers and hot dogs for them.
Perhaps the seminal event is the club’s year-end visit and gift exchange. Every December, the club picks one chilly Saturday morning and travels to Our House to present each trainee with a special gift representative of something he may need: a pair of Nike sneakers, a winter jacket, clothing, etc.
The morning usually starts with an introduction from Our House’s executive director and a personal message of support and encouragement to the youth from each Rotary member. By the end of the morning, emotions overflow with warmth and gratitude as the trainees come to realize that the entire Rotary club is in their corner, rooting for them.
The morning ends with each trainee expressing his own personal thanksgiving while each Rotarian begins to realize that his or her “service above self” is affirmed, and the holiday season is sealed with good cheer and smiles from young men trying to find their way in life.
David Rodriguez is secretary of the Columbia Town Center Rotary Club. He can be reached at [email protected].