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Neighborhood Report

She's a mother to many daughters

By AMY SCHERZER
Published January 26, 2007


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The suggestion box tells Tresa Boykin she's reaching the girls. She beams at the pile of topics they submitted for discussion.

Boys and sex. Racism. Anger. Peer pressure. All issues she covers in the program she coordinates called Rites of Passage.

Boykin, 45, was blessed to have a mother and grandmother guide her transition from tomboy to adult woman.

Many of the girls she nurtures aren't so fortunate, so Boykin mothers them, 35 at a time, as if they were her own daughters.

Friends and co-workers say her unfailing ability to empathize, not judge, makes people trust her.

They see it every third Saturday when Boykin and other volunteers mentor their flock of 7- to 18-year-olds at the Lee Davis Neighborhood Service Center.

"She believes there is good in everyone, and she finds it," said Luvator Nelson, president of Derrick Brooks Charities Auxiliary. The group took over Rites of Passage from the Tampa-Hillsborough Urban League Guild when it dissolved last summer.

"Even a bad apple has to have a good seed somewhere," said Boykin, a personnel analyst and 20-year employee of the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

Activities in the mentoring program include visiting colleges and practicing table manners on restaurant outings.

Other sessions teach the perils of drugs and the power of self-confidence. At a session on hygiene and self-esteem, she'll ask the girls to look into a mirror and repeat, "I love me."

"We tell them, 'You are a princess. Your body is a castle,' " Boykin said.

She thinks they'll understand what that means when they attend the 49th annual Ebony Fashion Fair, a touring fashion show featuring stunning black models strutting in couture, including many bold outfits by black designers.

"It's an experience they'll never forget," said Boykin, who is chairwoman of the 5 p.m. show Sunday at Tampa Theatre.

For years, the Urban League Guild hosted the show in Tampa and split the proceeds with Ebony. This year, Derrick Brooks Charities will collect about $15,000 from the event.

"My co-workers tease me that I think I can save the world," Boykin said.

She is protective of the girls, watching their body language to detect anxieties. During a lesson on setting the table, she's aware of who might not have enough silverware to do the job.

When a job candidate showed up at the office for an interview wearing flip-flops, her office mates criticized the applicant. Not Boykin. She found a reason to make her choice acceptable.

"Maybe they were the only shoes she had," said Boykin. "Unless you walk in someone's shoes, you don't know where they've been."

Boykin's commitments keep her on the computer all hours of the night. She has been known to fall asleep on the keyboard in the home she shares with her mother, Gloria Green, near Lowry Park.

She also looks after her father, Robert Green, who suffered a stroke in November. She never runs out of energy for her eight nieces and nephews and Tony, her 8-year-old grandson.

And there's always time to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Of course, Derrick Brooks is her favorite. He occasionally stops in to visit mentoring classes.

Boykin grew up in Cleveland, moving to Tampa at 17. She graduated from Chamberlain High School in 1979 and had her daughter, Tanisha Boykin, 28, who owns her own cleaning business in Atlanta.

Tresa Boykin began volunteering at the North Tampa Boys & Girls Clubs when her daughter was 5 and wanted to be a cheerleader.

"I spent so much time there, I thought: I might as well coach," she said. That evolved to cheerleader coordinator, club board member and girl's basketball coach.

But Coach Boykin went beyond high kicks and slam dunks. She lived the rules and modeled the responsible behavior she expected from the girls.

"I have faith that people will do the right thing, but kids are kids. They came from hardworking families, but I observed some attitudes that needed mentoring."

At work during the day, she often spoke about the girls with her boss and mentor, Joyce Latson, who urged her to join the Tampa Urban League Guild, specifically to get involved with the Rites of Passage program.

More than 10 years later, she stays in touch with many of the girls, offering rides and an ear.

She takes teens shopping and sends college students phone cards. When her office recently hired one of her graduates, that was the icing on the cake.

Amy Scherzer can be reached at scherzer@sptimes.com or 813 226-3332.

Fast Facts:

Behind the lens: Her camera is always at hand. At Christmas, she snapped pictures of each Rites of Passage participant in a Santa cap to turn into cards for their parents.

Behind the scenes: Writes parents' bulletin, makes home visits, tracks down report cards.

Perfectionist: An understatement for this hands-on micromanager.

Team player: She credits all the auxiliary mentors for the programs' success.

Never says no: "My daughter calls me Mother Tresa."

 

Tresa Boykin

 

[Last modified January 25, 2007, 08:47:29]


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