Oprah Winfrey with Ronnie Haskins, one of three young boys who sparked the idea behind the Untouchables mentoring program, which was honored by Winfrey in 1991. Haskins is now studying for his doctorate.
“We wanted young boys in the community to see that they could be role models for each other.” —Untouchables co-founder James “Chucky” Moore
The Parker-Gray neighborhood was a different place 30 years ago. Drugs, alcohol and violence were often the only outlets for the youth of the community. But three young men stepped up to combat the destructive behavior they saw around them, thus giving birth to the Untouchables, a mentorship program that celebrated its 30th anniversary Sept. 8 at the Charles Houston Recreation Center.
“Ronnie [Haskins], Jason [Terry] and Kevin [Hillary] came to me about starting a program that would give kids something to do besides play basketball or be out on the streets,” said Theodore Jones, who was a counselor with the City of Alexandria at the time. “The word spread about the idea of forming a group for young men and on Sept. 20, 1988, 13 members came together for the first meeting of the Untouchables.”
Jones and James Moore are credited with founding the organization, which provides physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual development through mentoring programs. The group was honored on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1991 and twice visited with President Bill Clinton at the White House.
“The Untouchables really captures the essence of working with young people that normally fall through the cracks,” said Bill Cleveland, the current president and a 29-year member of the organization. “We help them get back to where they need to be.”
Cleveland was one of several individuals honored at the gala with Community Service awards for their commitment and service to the mentorship program. Other honorees included: William Chesney, director of Parks and Recreation; Rev. Larry Hayward of Westminster Presbyterian Church; Michael Joyner on behalf of The Agape Embassy Ministry; and Gertrude Harvey, a retired 40-year city employee at the Charles Houston Recreation Center.
“When I first came to Charles Houston there was so much negativity about this community,” said Harvey in accepting her award. “I had never stepped foot into City Hall but that didn’t stop me from calling Patsy Ticer and Vola Lawson and telling them to send me some counselors. We needed to teach these children to pick people up and not to criticize.”
The Untouchables meets weekly and serves boys ages 6-18. In addition to the Charles Houston Recreation Center, a second site is located at the William Ramsay Recreation Center.
“We serve a wide range of ages because the older ones in turn become leaders,” Jones said. “We think it’s important for our younger members to see older teens doing something positive.”
Added Moore: “We wanted young boys in the community to see that they could be role models for each other.”
Members of the Untouchables participate in various volunteer and community service projects such as serving Thanksgiving dinners to seniors and low income families in need.
“We are so thankful to have this program in our community,” said Louise Anderson of Westminster Presbyterian Church, “because it strengthens all of us.”
The Untouchables is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization. For more information, visit www.theuntouchables88.org.