If you ask Lars Rascoe what separates a boy from a man, he’ll tell you giving back is a fundamental part of growing up. Rascoe is part of the reason seven young men from Indianapolis hopped on a plane last Wednesday and took a midnight flight to Nicaragua, a Central American country known for its beautiful lakes, tropical beaches and dramatic volcanoes. The teens, alongside Rascoe and 13 other adult mentors, were visiting the country on a service trip to build a playground for children in need.
The teens are members of Boys II Men Inc., a local nonprofit that connects adolescent and teen boys to older male mentors to teach youth the importance of academic success, financial independence, faith, giving back and more. While many empowerment organizations focus solely on pouring into Black youth, Boys II Men has a strong focus on encouraging young Black men to support and uplift others. Service, they teach, takes strength, and the students take part in a variety of volunteer opportunities throughout the year, including working with Wheeler Mission and helping with McMiracle on 38th Street.
Indianapolis teens and their mentors pose for a photo in Nicaragua.
Rascoe, who has a background in education, launched Boys II Men after realizing many of his former eighth grade students found the transition to high school challenging. Rascoe and two other teachers invited seventh and eighth grade boys to hang out on a Friday night to play games. While hanging out, the students opened up about issues that impacted them at school and at home. When he asked how teachers could help, his students came up with the idea of Boys II Men, and a seventh grader designed the logo. The organization has been active in Indianapolis since 1995 and has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Today, Boys II Men has three programs: the original one for middle school boys, a program for boys in elementary school, and one for teens who are Wards of the State or have experience with child services or foster care. This trip marks the second year the group has traveled to Nicaragua.
“Last year, we helped to build a security wall around a school combination church (in Nicaragua) because individuals were coming in and stealing things that were being donated. This year, we are building a playground. We are also taking in 450 pounds of clothing that the boys helped collect, and we will also be doing a food distribution,” said Rascoe.
The teens, alongside Rascoe and 13 other adult mentors, were visiting the country on a service trip to build a playground for children in need.
The young travelers were responsible for paying for their passports; all other expenses were covered by a donor. E’lon Love, 15, who went on the trip last year, hopes to expand on what he learned as he embarks on a new adventure.
“I’m like, really, really excited. Since I went last year, I plan on learning more about the culture because most of my teachers, they are all from different places,” said Love. “Last year it was pretty fun. We stayed at a school most of the time. We learned Spanish and helped build a wall to give them some protection. We met students and basically built a relationship with them. I feel like I can expand on that relationship this year because most people there, I have already met now, and so, for me to come back, I feel like that’s unusual for them because people don’t really come back. For us to come back would be making the bond stronger.”
Love has been a member of Boys II Men for over three years and says the group completely changed his perception regarding what it means to be a man.
“I have learned that the people you think you are supposed to be looking up to, it’s really the complete opposite. You might see some people who are famous and think, that’s the version of a man that I am supposed to be, but then you come here and realize they are doing what society wants, which is not necessarily the right way, and you end up living a whole different lifestyle,” said Love.
Rascoe says his ultimate goal is to nurture a lifestyle of academic success and good citizenship among men in Indianapolis.
“We want them to grow up and be able to make money, but understand that the money is not for them, it’s so that they can give back to the community,” said Rascoe. “Ultimately, we want these young men to take hope into Nicaragua. We want the boys to be able to see that their life here in Indianapolis is positive and unique. We want them to be able to go back to school with a driven focus so that they can obtain their careers and go after their highest potential.”
Students and mentors from Boys II Men Inc. connected with youth in Nicaragua on a recent service trip.