Editor's note: Continuing a longstanding tradition, columnist Ernest Hooper has asked (coerced) one of his kids to sub for him so he can be off this Father's Day weekend. This year, it's his oldest: Mat.
After 10 months of working with the students in the Poynter Institute's Write Field program, I walked into its annual end-of-the-year ceremony expecting the night to be a nice conclusion to a year of helping middle school and high school boys unlock the power of writing.
When I stepped inside, I didn't find the knuckleheads (I use that term affectionately) who had joined us on the second Saturday of every month. Instead, I found nicely groomed young men in tuxedos donated by Sacino's.
Only when the kids goofed around behind stage did I begin to recognize them.
As the night continued, some of the students presented their year-long efforts — pieces I couldn't even dream of composing when I was their age.
The crowd listened intently, as they heard prose that ranged from poetry written from the perspective of a Parkland victim to a call-to-action to take depression more seriously.
When they received their certificates and hardcover books with a piece from every participant, the kids strutted and cheered for each other.
The night felt like a graduation, but more intimate.
One of the students, Jervionnie, said he would miss me. To be honest, I didn't feel like I had earned that.
I had offered some writing advice, but mostly I spent the year discussing Fortnite and telling my "Back in my day" stories.
But the beauty of non-profit initiatives comes from a sense of community. It takes everybody. It takes parents signing up their kids, kids willing to engage and donations from organizations like the Rays and Wells Fargo.
It even takes a meandering 26-year-old who gave up his Saturdays to volunteer.
In the end, I was glad to play a part. I gained more than I gave.
That's all I'm saying.