STEPHEN HEMELT — Life’s impact: How we affect others?

Published 12:09 am Saturday, August 10, 2019

One of Eric Doshier’s best evaluation tools is the cafeteria test.

It goes like this. He sits in a school cafeteria, nondescriptly observing the students.

If he sees a student get up to throw away a plate and then notices five or six guys follow by doing the same thing, mimicking every step, then he knows that’s the kind of guy he wants.

As recruitment and retention coordinator for the Impact Agency, Doshier helps select students for the burgeoning youth-mentoring program in Calcasieu Parish.

The effort —funded by the city of Lake Charles, Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, Calcasieu Parish District Attorney’s Office, Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office and Calcasieu Parish Public Schools — has seen positive results in 18 months of operations and was recently presented to Jefferson County leaders for possible local implementation.

Doshier’s job is to help recruit students to the program, normally six at a time from grades 6, 7 and 8 at all participating schools, and keep them involved and motivated.

Those students then take what they learn during weekly meetings and implement positive changes in their schools and neighborhoods.

“We tend to always think we know a lot more; we should listen a lot more,” Doshier says. “These little guys have some serious things on their minds. Some of the issues these guys are going through would blow you away.

“It’s unlike any other entity or any other group that I have been involved with. Once you are in this program, you are in it until you graduate.”

That goes back to the influencer characteristic looked for in student members. Doshier feels the Impact Agency’s dedicated mentors can turn around students who might have previously used their influence for negative means.

I attended a presentation this week by Doshier and the rest of the Impact Agency, one that numerous elected leaders from Jefferson County also attended.

Following the meeting, I was able to speak with the Rev. Vester Thompson Jr., youth minister at Eastern Star Missionary Baptist Church in Port Arthur.

He was not at Impact Agency’s presentation, but his thoughts on how to best reach young people are interesting, considering it is his main focus.

“We have to do a better job of influencing young people so they want to do the right thing,” Thompson said. “I would say they have more negative influences now then they had in years past. I think social media and hip-hop culture have a whole lot to do with that.

“What I’m seeing now on the ground level is we have to be more creative in providing the right type of influence for (young people,) because, basically, I think we are a little behind. Right now, we’re in catch-up mode in trying to steer influence to Christianity.”

Although not faith-based in its mission, a famous Jackie Robinson quote guides Impact Agency: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

Whether Jefferson County leaders choose the Impact Agency model for work locally is not the issue. What is important is that Jefferson County’s district attorney, school districts, law enforcement leaders, municipal heads and county commissioners work together to foster positive change for young people.

They must then share that partnership’s progress with the public, keeping us all in the loop on how they are using taxpayer money to benefit young people.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher of The Port Arthur News.