Mat Hooper: Nonprofit efforts require a contribution from all

Ernest Hooper’s son Mat fills in today so his dad could take Father’s Day off.
Published June 17

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.

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