Boys & Girls Clubs provide enriching programs and adult support to help students thrive
Davontre Cohen wants to own three businesses before he turns 45.
First, he plans to design software for video games—one of his passions—upon graduating high school. After a few years, he’ll go back to school and study business management to prepare himself to achieve his dreams.
How did Cohen end up with these goals? And from where did he build such confidence in himself?
Perhaps it was encouragement from Cohen’s mother and grandmother that influenced his decisions and the positive effects that stemmed from them. Maybe it was circumstance. But it’s also very likely Cohen’s involvement in Boys & Girls Clubs from a young age had something to do with the maturity and character he expresses today. A lot to do with it.
“As they say here at Boys & Girls Clubs, ‘Great futures start here,’” Cohen says. “I truly believe it.”
The history of Boys & Girls Clubs of America begins during the Civil War era, when three women in Hartford, Connecticut organized the first Club to provide boys who roamed the streets a positive alternative. Character development has been the cornerstone of the Boys & Girls Clubs experience ever since.
A Home Base
Speaking of history, Cohen’s mother, Burieda, and grandmother, Nerieda, have a great deal of experience with Boys & Girls Clubs. Nerieda was involved as a child, and enrolled Burieda as well. Cohen’s mother then worked at one of the Boys & Girls Clubs in Akron as a teenager, before she had Davontre at age 17.
“After my mom graduated high school, we moved into an apartment, and then into a big house in West Akron – it wasn’t the best neighborhood,” Cohen explains. “We didn’t know anyone there.”
But when Cohen’s mother moved them to a house in East Akron, he soon found a second home from which he didn’t have to move: Boys & Girls Clubs of the Western Reserve’s Eller Teen Club.
Cohen has been a member of the Eller Club since he was 10 years old. He knows everyone who has joined the Club since then; if someone is new, it doesn’t take Cohen long to introduce himself. His younger brother Malachi also attends the Eller Club, and their youngest brother, 5-year-old Tristan, will join the Steve Wise Club this summer.
“Boys & Girls Clubs is important to me because it opened me up to a variety of opportunities and other students, not just those from this area,” Cohen says, adding one of the members is from Stow. He has met a lot of friends through the years.
“We get to participate in career programs, fine arts, college tours, field trips and physical activities,” Cohen says. His favorite activity? Dodgeball.
Basketball seems to be most popular among the members, as a shuttle transports up to 50 children to the LeBron James Club to play on some evenings after school. Cohen enjoys joining the fun on occasion, as a knee injury has prevented him from playing basketball at school. He no longer plays football either, but it was Boys & Girls Clubs that inspired him to play sports in the first place.
Not only is Cohen involved with several activities at the Eller Teen Club, but he has also joined other school-based programs. When he attended Roswell Kent Middle School, Cohen received recognition for a project he completed through Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE), a worldwide science and education program. His project titled, “Domed Stadiums: Comparative Study,” was inspired after the Minnesota Vikings’ Metrodome roof collapsed under heavy snow.
“GLOBE took me to great places,” Cohen says.
Following the footsteps of family members, Cohen played the flute until his course load became too cumbersome. Although he chose the instrument based on its sound and light weight, regular practice helped him become first chair in the band’s flute section.
As he reflects on his accomplishments and some challenges he faced along the way, it’s clear Cohen learns from his experiences.
“History has its way on you,” he says. “History is good; you can learn from it all the time.”
By spending time with the adults who work at Boys & Girls Clubs, Cohen has no doubt received the hope and opportunity the organization has been dedicated to providing youth for more than 100 years.
Miss Kandi helped Cohen better understand what it is like to have a career. “She introduced me to new things,” Cohen says, “like writing checks and interviewing skills.”
Mr. Eric always encouraged him to do better; to improve upon himself. Mr. Denzel taught the students to play a game called “Director,” which required them to act out scenes off-the-cuff. At first, Cohen felt uncomfortable acting, but ultimately it inspired him to just be himself.
“Everyone has helped me become the man I am today,” Cohen says. “They’ve helped improve my self-drive; they’ve built me up when I was down.” He realizes these individuals are more than employees at the Club; they’re mentors.
One mentor in particular has encouraged Cohen to “follow your dreams; she tells me I should always have a game plan,” he says.
This mentor is Miss Jacquelyn Minor, Club director of the Eller Teen Club, who has supported Cohen’s endeavors for several years, but most recently when he won Club Youth of the Year and runner-up for the state-wide competition.
“I have always viewed Davontre Cohen as a leader and valued member of our Eller Teen Boys & Girls Club,” Miss Jacquelyn says. “His positive attitude and behavior is a pleasure to be around. I love seeing how he influences the other teens to make positive decisions. His commitment to leadership, character and community service are noteworthy and has the suitability to hold the title of the 2016 National Youth of the Year.”
Cohen applied for the award last year, which involved writing three essays about his vision for America’s youth, his personal brand and his experience in Boys & Girls Clubs. Then, after an interview, he was selected to speak at the first competition in 2015. From there, Cohen was chosen for the second place award, which he received earlier this year at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus among other winners, state representatives and one of his biggest fans, Miss Jacquelyn.
Cohen also received recognition at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Western Reserve’s annual Aspire! Fundraiser event in March.
“I was happy to place in the competition,” he says. Cohen attributes his award to academic achievements, his overall vision for youth and his personal brand; all of which comprise his character, a product of acting on opportunities to influence positive change.
Cohen says it best. “If you don’t apply yourself, you’re not going to make it.”