Tony Benford’s story. He is 29,
As told to Ron Groves
I was born in Pasadena, California. When I was two years old, my mother decided to move back to Indiana in hopes to escape the fast-paced life of the big city. We settled down in Muncie along with my older brother and sister. My mother did the best she could as a single mother providing for our family and for that, she is my hero. In 1997, one year after my brother graduated from high school, he was involved in a tragic accident and died at the age of 20. I was ten years old and couldn’t understand why this happened. From that day forward, I wanted nothing more than to make my mother proud. I wanted her to be happy and to never have to endure any more heartaches in her life.
The next summer I started to attend the Boys & Girls Club of Muncie. The Club was a safe place to go after school. I enjoyed hanging out with my friends, playing basketball and used this time to forget about the pain my family was experiencing. I can remember racing to the Club with my friends in the summer, because we wanted to be there as soon as the doors opened.
Besides my mom, I didn’t have a role model in my life. I had to rely on my pastor, the staff at the Boys and Girls Club and especially Cory Downs, the Athletic Director. When I was in the eighth grade, Coach Downs asked me to play basketball on his AAU team (Amateur Athletic Union). This news absolutely blew me away! I played basketball all throughout elementary and middle school but I didn’t feel like I was very good at it.
He apparently saw something in me that I didn’t recognize in myself. I was thrilled with the opportunity and told him I absolutely wanted to play! He not only encouraged me to be a better basketball player, he asked me to become a leader on the team. I will never forget it. He said, “Tony, we’re going to have to make a few cuts. I want you to tell me who you think will be the best players on the team.”
I went home that evening and thought…WOW! Not only did Coach Downs want me to play on the team, but to help manage it as well. I played with the team for ten weeks that summer, traveling to many places where I had never been.
Before then, I never took playing basketball seriously. I began to sleep with a basketball every night. I wanted to be the best player I could be and prayed that I could also be a great leader for the team. Without Coach Downs giving me this hope and opportunity, I never would have been successful in playing basketball and for that I am forever grateful.
I went on to play freshman basketball and three years as a starter on the varsity team at Southside H.S. Coach Baumgartner was also a great influence on me, showing me ways to improve my game and to become a better leader for the team. During my junior year at Southside, my mentors at The Club helped me keep my academics a priority. With the counseling and encouragement from my mentors, I was able to receive a basketball scholarship at Bethel College – a Christian college located in Mishawaka, Indiana, where I graduated with a degree in Sports Management.
Ironically, when I graduated from college, my first job was with the Boys and Girls Club.
I’m now the Club’s Unit Director. Five responsibilities fall on my plate: the members, their parents, the facilities, and the club staff and volunteers. Although staff members handle our programs, I directly oversee how they are managed.
My pastor, Clyde Harris, has also played a major role in developing me into the man I am today. Clyde is not only pastor of the Lighthouse Community Church in Indianapolis, he is my first cousin as well. My wife and I drive to his church every Wednesday evening for Bible study and attend Sunday morning services. Clyde has mentored me into being a good husband, father, and a doer of God’s work.
In my position at the Club, I also have the opportunity to personally mentor some of the students in my charge. For example, I met Ramon Parrot who had moved here from
Indianapolis when he was an 8th grader and his brother, Isaiah Clay, who was in the 5th grade at Sutton Elementary. I built a good relationship with them through basketball and that allowed me to get to know them personally. I have made sure they succeeded academically as well as have them become positive role models in this community. Ramon graduated last year from Muncie Central High School and is now serving in his second year in the National Guard. Isaiah plans to further his education after graduating from Muncie Central in 2019.
I have always wanted be become a teacher and a coach and I only need two more semesters of classes to receive my teacher’s license. But, just maybe, until I am able to pursue my teaching certificate, working here at the Club is what God wants me to do. I love it here and even if I change jobs later, I will still be able to volunteer evenings and during the summer months offering Club members the same positive hope and opportunities that I received growing up here.
Ronald E. Groves was president/creative director of his advertising agency for more than fifty years. He was a member of the Midwest Writers Workshop for more than fifteen years. In addition to being the author of “The Silver Dollar,” his life’s story, he was the writer/editor of two newsletters for several years, designed and edited four books, and designed and illustrated six books for area authors.
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The Facing Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that connects people through stories to strengthen communities. The organization’s model to share stories and raise awareness is in cities across the United States focused on topics such as poverty, sex trafficking, mental health, immigration, and more. Facing Project stories are compiled into books and on the web for a community resource, used to inspire art, photography, monologues and—most importantly—community-wide awareness, dialogue, action, and change toward a more understanding and empathetic society.
This story originally appeared in Mentoring in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware County in Muncie, Indiana.