Gene Beckstein and Nathaniel Shelton started life at two very different points, but somehow ended up on the same path.
After their individual journeys lead them to Gainesville’s E.E. Butler High School, they would both end up on a path of being role models to show boys how to be men.
During Thursday’s Beckstein and Shelton Boyhood to Manhood luncheon, their community contributions were recognized.
“We want to honor these men for inspiring others to reach for their dreams, or in some cases inspiring them to have a dream,” said Tory Buffington, THINK advocate.
THINK, or Teaching Harmony Integrity Nurturing and Knowledge, was the beneficiary of the fund-raiser luncheon. The joint initiative was launched by District 2 Public Health and other community partners.
The formal goals of the initiative mirror the ideals that Shelton and Beckstein have been working on for the last several decades — helping young men strengthen their personal integrity, workplace literacy, civic awareness and academic proficiency.
While a teacher at E.E. Butler High, Shelton founded The Gents Club. The group started out with students who were known troublemakers in the school and community at large.
“(The principal) told me not to bother with these guys,” Shelton said.
“But being the type of person that I am, I thought if these guys wanted a chance, then maybe I ought to give them a chance.”
That “chance” grew into an organization of thinkers and entrepreneurs. The club’s members started a lawn care business where they made enough money to purchase a van and start a teen club. They also created and produced a pageant for teenage girls that would run for 26 years and become a locally televised event.
“Everybody wants to be a part of something. There’s such a thing as positive peer pressure. It makes you want to do better,” said a former Gents member in a video honoring Shelton and Beckstein.
“(Shelton) always instilled in us a desire to go further.”
As a teacher for 13 years and school social worker for 15, Shelton has spent decades helping young men make their lives better.
Beckstein also inspired youths to do better —- over the years. He and his wife not only have two children of their own but play parents to more than 50 other teenagers.
In the 1960s, Beckstein became one of only three white teachers at predominantly black E.E. Butler High School. Although others may have struggled to handle the problem students, Beckstein grew a reputation for being able to straighten them out.
“They started sending all of the students with behavior problems to me,” Beckstein said.
“When they would walk in, I’d (silently pray) ‘Dear Lord, please help me make this boy my son,’ and I never had a problem with them after that.”
As the founder of Good News at Noon — a homeless shelter — Beckstein would find many “sons” over the years.
“What he preaches at Good News, he lives,” said Thomas Ramirez, who benefited from Beckstein’s guidance.
“He’s a real man of integrity.”