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Finding a purpose: RSO mentors young men and sets them on a strong path

Group of men volunteering

Progression of Generations members after a day of service at Habitat for Humanity in fall 2019

Reality hit hard one night for Illinois State student Antonio Lenow Jr. He was in a dorm playing one of his favorite video games—NBA 2K—with a few friends. As he looked around the room, he took notice of how the size of the gatherings had diminished.

A few of his peers whom he had befriended in his early days at Illinois State University had flunked out of school and wound up back home. He wondered aloud how they got on that path and asked himself if he too was headed in a similar direction.

Lenow Jr., a criminal sciences major from Urbana, determined that it would have been beneficial to seek out a mentor who could show him how to balance living away from home while also taking full advantage of the task at hand, earning a degree.

“I wish I would have had that backbone to keep me going and keep pushing,” Lenow Jr. said.

He, along with friends Charles Olaleye and Dwayne Gosa-Coleman, decided to be just that for others: not only prevent young men from going down the wrong path but also embarking on the right one.

In fall 2018, the trio created the registered student organization (RSO) Progression of Generations. Its mission statement reads: “The purpose of this organization is to unite college men in the bond of brotherhood with mentoring, leadership and development. The goal is to support young men academically, mentally, physically, and socially for those who not only want to improve themselves but also want wisdom and guidance through their college career.”

As a member of the Illinois National Guard, Lenow Jr. has experienced firsthand how discipline can center a person’s focus. He has brought that mentality to a group aimed primarily of freshmen and sophomore men.

Progressions of Generations, which has had as many as 75 members, is a mentorship program in which mentors meet with their mentees two times a week with a grade check on Fridays. Two to three times a month, the group gets out in the community to volunteer at places such as Habitat for Humanity and the Boys and Girls Club. After spending a day working at Bloomington ReStore last October, the company wrote on its Facebook page that “every time they help us (they) get more done than we plan for them to do.”

The group’s weekly meetings consist of wellness talks—everything from healthy eating to financial stability—and academic guidance. Progression of Generations has a booth set up at Festival ISU, and young men interested can reach out at pogproductions23@gmail.com.

Lenow Jr. hopes that every young man who joins the group will someday walk across the stage at Redbird Arena for graduation. He has an even bigger wish that the lessons learned in Progression of Generations can translate to a life of reaching full potentials and giving back. As he put it, helping people become the best versions of themselves can go a long way in making the world a better place.

“The ultimate goal is to say, ‘That’s my brother, I am proud of him, and now he understands life,’” Lenow Jr. said. “If you are not ready for life, you are going to get slapped in the face when you enter the real world. Why not get them ready for it now?”

Explore more opportunities to get involved at RedbirdLife.IllinoisState.edu.

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