On Wednesday, May 4, 2016, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor celebrated some remarkable young men at the Joel E. Smilow Teen Center. During the ceremony, 50 young men graduated the Passport to Manhood program, and Antonio Varnado, age 16, was awarded the 2016 Young Man of the Year Award.
Club boys, ages 9 to 18, take part in the Passport to Manhood program, an integral program for youth to learn about responsibility. Through 14 sessions concentrating on various aspects of manhood, these boys learn important life skills from teachers and mentors about how to become responsible, healthy, and courageous men in today’s society. Upon completion, each participant receives his own passport to underscore the notion that he is on a personal journey of growth.
Antonio Varnado is a junior at Benton Harbor High School and loves attending the Club. “Growing up in Benton Harbor, people only knew words like FAILURE, DEFEAT and DROPOUT—but not me. I knew I had to make a change for the better, so I signed up for the Teen Center,” Antonio explains. “When I’m at the Club, I can just be myself. I have developed a family at the Club.” Through tough times, the Club has helped him grow as a person, improve his grades, and mature. Even more, Antonio has made life-long friends that he trusts. “At the Club, I have a place where I belong and I am free of pressure,” he says.
When he’s at the Club, Antonio is learning valuable lessons. “Programs like Passport to Manhood with Mr. John and Mr. BJ helped mold me into the young man I am today. The Teen Center helped me realize two things. First, that college is possible. Second, that as an African American man out of Benton Harbor, Michigan—I, too, can make it!”
Speaking at the breakfast ceremony was legendary St. Louis Cardinals shortstop, Ozzie Smith. In baseball, Ozzie Smith is known as “The Wizard”—a nickname he earned for the way he played—performing magic with his glove and showcasing acrobatic agility in the infield. During Ozzie’s 19 years as a major league player, he broke numerous records and received a wealth of accolades.
During Ozzie’s 15 years with the St. Louis Cardinals, he was more than an exceptional athlete. Off the field, he spent countless hours assisting various charities in the St. Louis area, almost all of which benefit children. A testament to the impact of this important work, Ozzie’s various humanitarian and service awards span decades.
When he retired from baseball, Ozzie stepped into other roles that gave him rewarding experiences as a singer, dancer, actor, radio host and restaurant owner. Currently, Ozzie serves as President of the Gateway PGA Foundation, an organization that reaches out to inner city youth via mentoring and golf programs. He also serves as the Education Ambassador for the Baseball Hall of Fame.