It is often said that you cannot become what you do not see. So if you are a young man growing up in a home without a father, who do you turn to?
Having walked a fatherless road himself until the age of 17, Tramain Rayford knows what it’s like to need guidance. As a result of his personal lived experience and working with the youth at his church, he founded The Program Inc. Five years later, The Program has helped hundreds of boys and young men learn life skills and build their confidence. They served 448 participants in 2022 alone. Boys ages from 8-18 are eligible for enrollment.
“We have a diverse group,” Rayford says, “Not only racial diversity but also socioeconomic diversity.” The Program Inc allows the participants to see they are not alone in their struggles, and they can help each other through them.
According to research published by the US Census bureau, the negative outcomes for youth coming from absent-father homes account for 90 percent of all homeless and runaway youth, 63 percent of youth suicides, 71 percent of high school drop outs, 85 percent of children with behavior disorders and more.
While those stats seem daunting, The Program is helping their participants change the trajectory of their lives. In 2022, 80 percent of their enrolled participants had grade averages of B or above. Per their parents, 87 percent noticed an improvement in their son’s self confidence.
Rayford shares about a young man who was on track to meet some of those negative outcomes. He shares, “His mom called me. He was getting in fights, failing all his classes and getting expelled.”
Progress was noted after six months, and within a year the young man was on the honor roll and is now taking college courses prior to graduating high school. “When I asked him what he wants to do when he grows up, he said, ‘I want to run The Program.’”
How they do it
The Program offers three services: The Community Development Initiative, A-List Mentoring and Program Inc for Women.
The Community Development Initiative allows participants to partake in fun, hands-on learning activities. They are taught practical ways to deal with peer pressure, prevent violence against women and girls, basic car repair and more. The Program has had great success with their CDI such as the Tie Event, Tug of War, and First Date.
At the Tie Event, volunteers and older participants show the younger boys how to properly tie a tie and practice their soft skills. “The goal is that the older participants will give back what they have received. We don’t kick them out when they turn 18. This year we really saw that happen. One of our young men gave the instructions and lead at The Tie event and I didn’t even need to be behind the microphone.”
The A-list mentoring program offers monthly meetings for mentors and mentees to strengthen their relationships. It includes outings in the community, such as kayaking. The boys and young men give back to their community through community service projects. Rayford says, “We want to expose them to different things. That way they know they have other options than the negativity they see around them. They don’t have to join a gang or get into drugs.”
Some lessons are learned without direct instruction. Rayford explains, “They learn patience by waiting for their team. They learn courage by trying something new. They might have been scared at first to get in the water, but we are giving them opportunities to realize they can do things they are scared of. You can’t walk into a room and shake a man’s hand without courage. So even these things are helping them develop soft skills.”
The Program Inc. for Women is a newer program that provides support to single moms. The Program is holding events for them such as yoga, boxing and other opportunities to receive support. Moms are also included in the First Date event, being accompanied by their sons to places like The Chop House, an event sponsored by Target.
All services and events are free. The Program has received several grants but is primarily funded by private donations and community sponsors. They have been able to provide all services to participants cost-free throughout the years thanks to the generosity of the community and businesses.
For more information, visit The Program Inc. on Facebook or at programinc.org.