Most people would call Eric Kellya good kid. He’s sensitive and athletic, makes decent grades and dreams of going to Southern Methodist University after he graduates from Greenhill School this month. His parents say he is a “beacon” to his five siblings, most of whom live at home in East Oak Cliff.
When Eric was 12, somebody spotted him in the Oak Cliff Boys Club library and suggested that he might benefit from the Boys Club program that helps underprivileged black and Hispanic children attend private schools. It meant a challenge, and Eric was willing to try it. Part of the challenge meant leaving the friends he had grown up with and traveling each day to the independent Greenhill School in North Dallas, an area of town with an image of rich kids, fancy cars and an ironclad class system.
Eric now knows that the school was a haven of innovation. He remembers that at first, he liked the open spaces. Later, he came to appreciate the small number of students in each class and the personal attention from his teachers. He had enjoyed the talented-and-gifted program he had participated in at Oliver Wendell Holmes Academy in Oak Cliff, but at Greenhill he wasn’t the only student to raise his hand in class.
The Independent Recruitment and Transportation Program is one that Ralph Pahel, executive director of the Boys Clubs of Greater Dallas, has been working on since 1972. Pahel helps find children from low-income areas of the city who can pass the private-school entrance exams. He and Boys Clubs staff member Brenda Sanders talk to parents who feel intimidated by the economic realities of private school tuitions. They also work with the students who are admitted to help them make the transition to dealing with an affluent peer group. Sometimes, that means taking a few dollars out of the club’s kitty to buy one of them an Izod shirt.
Pahel admits that at this time last year, he was a little worried. The program had grown from a couple of students to 19. One boy dropped out of Green-hill a month before graduation because he wasn’t happy. There were other problems, too. With only one or two vans transporting the students each day from the southern areas of the city to North Dallas and back again, some students didn’t get home until dark, and others couldn’t participate in the band, choir or sports.
To solve these problems, Pahel called for a meeting. In an unprecedented gathering, the headmasters and some board members of Greenhill School, St. Mark’s School of Texas, The Episcopal School of Dallas and The Hockaday School met with board members of the Boys Clubs. Each school agreed to participate in the program with scholarships and moral support.
Pahel says that the Boys Club will spearhead the recruitment and transportation program, which is now set up on a five-year, $300,000 budget. The Meadows Foundation gave a $40,000 grant earlier this year to help pay for another van and part of the operating budget.
Eric epitomizes the Boys Clubs’ goals, and he’ll be one of the first to graduate through its recruitment program. But he admits that he’s experienced some disappointments since he started his seventh-grade year at Greenhill. But he’s had some high points, too. He received Greenhill’s prestigious citizenship award and was named Boy of the Year by the Boys Clubs of Greater Dallas.
Eric describes his school life as living in two different worlds. “Back home, they think I’m a real smart-aleck, you know, because I wear glasses and go to Greenhill. But at Greenhill, they look at me as an athlete. Where do I fit in? The athlete or the smart-aleck or what? I think the Boys Club has been kind of a bridge to that.” He admits that he doesn’t know the answer, but says that whatever it is, “Eric Kelly is the same person now as he is when he’s at home or when he’s at Greenhill.”