Sasha Link, an 18-year-old high school senior, has no idea where she’d be today if she hadn’t enrolled in the Mo Vaughn Youth Development Program five years ago.
“I’d be clueless,” she said. “When I got here, I was lost. I had low self-esteem, a lot of family problems and bad grades. I was disobedient and obnoxious.”
Now look at her: a C+ student who is sending out college applications, a soft-spoken, confident young woman and aspiring writer.
Link is one of the original students in the program, which Vaughn started in 1994 with help from a government grant and is run by Bryan Wilson and Roosevelt Smith, Vaughn’s childhood friends from Norwalk, Conn.
With an annual budget of $350,000, half of which Vaughn provides, Wilson and Smith take a core group of 24 “at-risk” kids a year, often from broken and low-income homes, and try to make them whole.
“We take kids who are on the fence, who are not sure if they’ll go the right or wrong way,” Wilson said. “We try to point them in the right direction.”
To stay enrolled, the young people, ages 13-18, must commit to the program’s headquarters, located in the basement of an adolescent health center in the Dorchester section of the city, every weekday afternoon, from 3-8 p.m.
Tutors, workshops, guest speakers and dinner are provided, as well as rides home. Though the center includes a computer room and three tutorial rooms filled with reference materials, the mission is not purely academic. It’s also social.
The kids have gone skiing in Maine, toured Washington, visited Georgetown and Harvard and gone to upscale restaurants to learn about etiquette. They go to movies, museums and shows, and some are learning trades. The group recently went to Vaughn’s house for a party.
“I can see the change in myself,” Link said, “and I couldn’t have done this by myself.”
Vaughn’s involvement goes well beyond his signature on a check. He visits the center about once a month, keeps tabs on the kids and monitors the curriculum.
“He shows he cares,” Link said.
That’s how the folks at the St. Francis House, a homeless shelter in downtown Boston, felt when Vaughn visited twice last year, donning an apron to serve lunch and chat with guests.
Through his Homers for the Homeless program, Vaughn helped raise $100,000 for St. Francis last year.
“But you can’t put a face and a name to a check,” Vaughn said. “So it’s important for them to see us.”
Kevin “Cozy” Lewis, a 40-year-old who is battling alcohol addiction and has been homeless for seven years, played dominoes with Vaughn.
“That was one of the biggest moments of my life,” Lewis said.
Vaughn also has “adopted” several inner-city schools, made numerous speaking engagements, bused kids to the circus and Ice Capades, and donated about $100,000 a year to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston.
“He was like a big brother to these kids,” said Valerie Hamilton, a physical education teacher at the Charles Taylor School in Mattapan. “Athletes are usually so far removed from kids, but Mo became a reality. They could hug him, touch him. He generated so much energy and love.”
Vaughn already is making community-involvement plans for Orange County, but he will not abandon his efforts in Boston. His youth program will continue, he again will donate $1,000 to St. Francis House for every homer he hits, and he plans to return to Massachusetts during the off-season and continue his school visits.
Only now, those kids will be touched by an Angel.