Clarence High and Alvin

Alvin and his mentor and father figure, Clarence High. This photograph was taken by Alvin’s mother, April Smith.

A Game Changer | Fall 2013 Spotlight |

At age 17, Alvin can stand in front of a hundred people and tell the details of his life without flinching. He can talk about his dream of joining the Army National Guard and becoming a military police officer. And he can talk about his big mistake in the 8th grade, when he brought a gun to school thinking he would sell it.

That February 2010 decision cost Alvin his freedom and compromised his future at the age of 14. But it also led him to people and programs that changed his life.

One of those people is Clarence High, the District 6 chief court counselor who became a mentor, advocate and father figure to him.

Alvin came to Methodist Home for Children in May 2010 after spending three months in the Perquimans Youth Development Center for the gun incident, and he lived nine months at MHC’s Hertford County multipurpose home.

He did well at MHC and before long he was earning privileges like weekend visits away. But there was one problem —he had no place to go. His biological father had never been around, and his relationship with his mother was strained enough that she didn’t want him visiting.

High stepped in to fill that void, Alvin says. “He was and still is the only male in my life who I can look up to and I can trust.”

With the OK from MHC staff, High took Alvin to the mall, to grab a hamburger, to network with other teens at conferences. He noticed that Alvin was “very, very bright,” and got him to read and talk about books. He forgave Alvin for being a Duke fan, and Alvin forgave him for being a Carolina fan.

“One thing that I have to say about Alvin, he is his own person,” High laughs. “If he feels this way about something, you’re not going to persuade him otherwise. He thinks for himself.”

Alvin says he didn’t trust many people at the time he met High, and he was a little intimidated by his new mentor. “But I noticed when he said he was going to do something, he did it,” Alvin says. “That’s one thing that I really liked. We were just hanging out, but the stuff that we did, I’d never done that before.”

MHC works to create opportunities for repeat juvenile offenders that they otherwise wouldn’t have. The teens can lead tours at open houses and come to events, and sometimes they get to meet juvenile justice leaders, lawmakers, board members and other advocates like High.

In July, they met J.R. Gorham, an executive officer in the N.C. Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice. Not only is Gorham a juvenile justice leader, he’s also a retired brigadier general in the N.C. National Guard, and he called Alvin this summer to encourage his plans for joining the Guard.

Opportunities like these are a “game changer” for at-risk teens, says Sean Flowers, who lived in MHC’s Wayne County multipurpose home in 2005. Flowers has since graduated from college and works as a program coordinator at the Family Resource Center of Raleigh.

“Had I never gone through Methodist Home for Children, I would not know half the people—or half the things—that I know now,” Flowers says. “You’re meeting some of the most important people in the state, people who can influence what your life is going to become.”

After Alvin earned his GED in January, High gave him a referral back into MHC care—this time for a vocational education program called WORK4IT. He’s opened a bank account, gotten an auto detailing job and passed his Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. With one more test, he’ll be ready to enlist and start basic training.

He’s also repaired the relationship with his mother, and they talk or see each other almost daily. It’s taken a while, Alvin says, but he knows now what he wants for his future: “I want to be able to take care of myself and travel and be happy.”

High is still in Alvin’s corner and wants the best for him, as a father would. “Every once in a while, in a case like Alvin and me, it’s much more than a mentoring relationship. We’re almost like family. And I tell him all the time, you’ve got to do what makes you happy. Just let it be something productive.”