Austin Castillo-Leovan is currently a Junior in H.S. He began going to Children and Family Urban Movement programming when he was 5. In the 5th grade he heard his sister talk on and on about the Whyld Girls. He watched her work hard and have the opportunities to go on trips. One time as she was leaving on yet another Whyld Girls adventure he asked when CFUM was going to start a program like the Whyld Girls for the Boyz. Up until then the boys had programming off and on as various artists were contracted through special grants. ELI responded to Austin’s question by providing consistent funding to begin the Backyard Boyz Program on a weekly basis. In its 4th year, the program has grown from 8 boys to 27.
When asked how the Backyard Boyz has made a difference in his life Austin responded:
Backyard Boyz has helped me have a sense of responsibility with my school work. In 9th and 10th grade we met once a week with Nathan as a group and then we met once/month individually with him to go over our grades in infinite campus. We had all created a contract together about succeeding in school which included our grade point and attendance. We had a standard we said we would live up to together as a group. Nate expected a lot from us when we would go through our records. He could see all the assignments we hadn’t handed in and we hated that at first because he would lecture us about how we had to put in the effort to succeed. At first we didn’t like our teachers, but he encouraged us to get to know them and communicate with them. This was how we learned respect. In the beginning we didn’t really like showing up to meet with Nate once a month because we couldn’t hide what we were doing. But we kept showing up anyway because it was good for us and we knew he cared about us. It kept us going. We knew it was helping.
The Backyard Boyz gave me everything. I’ve been to different places I would have never gone, like South Dakota camping, Minneapolis, even Northeast Iowa which I found so beautiful. This all brought me to new experiences. Our projects and presentations gave me confidence to share what I am thinking. We learned how to speak in front of people. I know how to present myself in front of a crowd. The H.S. Future Campaign has helped me think about my life and my actions. H.S. is a transition to the real world and if you forget that, then you will get stuck.
Having a role model like Nate gave us the extra push to work harder at school and not give up. I have learned to be more calm and collected. I play sports, get involved in things at school and know how to work for good grades. Having someone there to catch you when you walk the thin line in H.S. is really important.
Each year Austin has fulfilled his contracts, maintaining 3. Grades. He is learning to mentor younger Backyard Boyz. He says it is different this year as a Junior:
Now I have to take responsibility. I have to practice what I have learned. Now I know how to push myself real hard to succeed. Backyard Boyz gave us the extra push to expand our minds. As a junior, I am exploring careers. I want to be a teacher. I think I want to teach because of being mentored. I want to give back. Everyone can succeed with a mentor.