Morris Smith grew up in Hollywood, Fla. without many positive male influences in his life.
"My father, he was off and on in my life, more off than on," Smith said. "I had a rough upbringing and had to lean on my friends a lot."
During his sophomore year of high school, Smith started playing basketball and met two friends in particular that made a huge impact on his life in a positive way.
"We became friends when they started taking me home (from practice). Then they took me to a football game even though I didn't have money," he said. "They saw me as a friend, not for my economic status and it helped me realize everybody isn't looking down at me."
Smith, now 35, moved to Milton about six years ago and is trying to be a visible positive role model for local youth.
Smith started an all-male non-profit mentoring program, Men in Action Outreach (MIA) in January for youth ages 12 to 18 who need a supportive male influence in their life. Twenty-six youth from Milton are currently enrolled in the program.
"Many kids come from single parent homes with just their mother," Smith said. "There's a void we're trying to help fill. I don't necessarily want to be a father, but maybe a big brother or uncle."
The mission for Smith and his seven other mentors is to be life coaches and support the youth with their goals so they can become successful adults.
The kids meet one-on-one with the mentors for 10 to 15 hours a month in addition to a formal organizational meeting and activities. The youth are taken on college campus tours, camping, fishing, sporting events and ultimately given the opportunity to spend quality time with encouraging adults.
"We help prepare them for life after high school, whether it's military, college, or something else. We want to support them to grab onto their goals and achieve them," Smith said. "Success doesn't always come from going to college."
The mentees set short and long term goals, which will be evaluated at the end of the year.
Demetric Rambo, 17, a junior at Milton High School, joined MIA in January because he saw it as an opportunity to help him prepare for the future.
He is an ambitious teen who has set a short-term goal of reaching a 4.0 GPA this semester and a long-term goal of writing a novel. He said while his father is active in his life, the program gives him the opportunity to spend time with friends and talk with his mentor about things he may not be comfortable talking about with his parents.
"It's also really good at making us active so we're not getting in trouble," he said.
The youth are not the only ones setting goals. Smith graduated from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University with a degree in Criminal Justice and is currently working on his Master's degree in Public Administration. He hopes to soon become an administrator in the school system.
Most of the other mentors in the program are local teachers and coaches.
"Everybody has a role and these guys do their role well. I love the process of MIA and we want to spend that quality time with these youth," Smith said. "Some men don't want to give their personal time to these kids but that's what were here for."
For more information on Men in Action Outreach, email email@example.com or call 850-284-8360.