This past week the Dallas Morning News Lake Highlands local blog featured an article about Zach Garza and Forerunner Mentoring Program. Zach's hope is that through the power of Christ centered one-on-one relationships, the Forerunner mentoring program will empower our students to break the cycle of fatherlessness and blaze a new path of integrity and leadership for future generations. You can read the full article below.
Zach Garza was in eighth grade, living in a two-parent household, when his world changed.
One day, his father was gone.
“Out of nowhere we found out that my father was going to take off on us. He came in one night and saw me and said, ‘Hey Zach, I’m sorry, but see you later,’” Garza said.
As a young boy, he felt alone. He tried to find his worth in sports, girls and being cool, but he wound up going down the wrong path, he said.
It wasn’t until his junior year at Abilene Christian University that things started to change. A man named Bob Strader saw potential in Garza and began to mentor him.
“After I met Bob, I learned the importance of having people in my life who are men that can teach me what it looks like to be a man,” Garza said.
Men like Strader inspired the 31-year-old Lake Highlands resident to forgive his father and begin his own mentor relationships.
About a year after Garza started teaching and coaching football at Lake Highlands Junior High School, he saw his past reflected in his young players.
“I think in my second year of coaching I asked the question, ‘Who in here has a home where there is no male present?’” Garza said. “We had about 65 kids on our team that year and over 45 of them had their hand up. At that moment, I saw 45 kids who were the same as me in eighth grade.”
Garza knew he had to find a way to reach those kids, but he realized he couldn’t do it alone. That notion eventually led him to founding the Forerunner Mentoring Program as a nonprofit in 2011 with fellow Lake Highlands resident Jonathan Hafemann.
The nonprofit focuses on providing young boys with absent fathers with a positive male role model through mentoring relationships. Beginning with one boy in 2012, the program now has eight adult mentors and 10 mentees in the eighth through 11th grades.
Hafemann said the short-term goal of the program is to help the mentees not feel alone and to let them know they have a male role model they can trust and count on.
Eventually, they hope the boys will carve a new path in their family by becoming responsible husbands and fathers.
“Our vision is for them is to be conditioned to go out to become capable and confident men who will break the cycle of fathers abandoning their home,” Hafemann said.
The mentees either attend or went to LHJHS. Most of them, such as Forerunner’s second mentee, LaQuantis Davis, played on Garza’s football team.
Until Davis met Garza about two years ago, he didn’t have a positive father figure in his life.
“[My dad] kind of walked out when I was 6 or 7, and I’ve seen him maybe five times since then,” Davis said.
Our vision is for them is to be conditioned to go out to become capable and confident men who will break the cycle of fathers abandoning their home
The 16-year-old Arkansas native lived with his mom and his brothers until his mom sent him to the Dallas area in sixth grade to live with his aunt.
“I used to follow [my older brother], so my mom decided that wasn’t the best thing for me, so I ended up coming up here,” Davis said.
That brother is now in prison.
In seventh grade, his mom came to live with him in Dallas. That school year, Davis also began spending time with Garza.
From nights grabbing pizza to watching the Rangers play at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Garza said their relationship progressed from talking about football to eventually discussing goals and home life.
When Davis’ mom got a job as a truck driver about a year ago — a job that requires extensive travel — he came to live with Garza and his wife, Sara.
“She really sees the benefit of having a man in a boy’s life and just how a man can really teach a boy what it looks like to be responsible, lead and do all of those things,” Garza said of Davis’ mother.
Davis said he has felt a change in himself since he met Garza. Not only has he seen an improvement in his grades, but he’s learned how to be more respectful and take responsibility for his actions.
“I’m constantly being supported in everything I do. [The Garzas] tell me they love me all the time, which really helps, knowing somebody loves you. Even when I do make mistakes, they’re there to comfort me,” Davis said.
Garza hopes to soon catch boys at an even younger age by expanding Forerunner Mentoring to elementary-aged kids. This year, his nonprofit has partnered with Northlake Elementary School to begin indentifying potential mentees, which it hopes to begin mentoring next school year.
Garza envisions offering an afterschool equipping program that will include a combination of education, physical activity and character building through faith.
“Our goal is by the time this kid graduates high school, he knows what it looks like to be a leader, he has high character, he’s fulfilling his potential in education and he’s a man who pours back into those he involves himself with,” Garza said.
Northlake Elementary principal Mary Kellagher said there are many students at her school, which receives financial assistance from the federal government through the Title 1 program, who don’t have a positive male role model.
“I just feel like if that kind of relationship is built outside of school I think the benefit will bleed into school. I think that it would help with academics, it would help with social development, it would help with character building [and] all of those things,” Kellagher said.
Garza hopes Forerunner can expand to even more kids in Lake Highlands by partnering with other schools in the area.
“You can invest in bonds and they can fail, you can invest in stocks and they will fail, but whenever you invest into the life of a person, whenever you invest love, effort and time, that doesn’t ever come back void,” Garza said.