Springfield Frontiers International: Advancement through service

Springfield Frontiers International is a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization whose goals are achieved through service to others and by working with community leaders in finding solutions to key issues that are civic, social and racial in nature. Members are called Yokefellows, the term originating from oxen bearing the burden of hard work through the yoke it wears.

The club is known for its youth programs and the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast. Jan.15 marked the group's 49th breakfast and featured guest speaker Dr. Wendi El-Amin, associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. A portion of the breakfast proceeds, along with funds generated from the annual golf outing, will be used to support the Positive Youth Development program for males in grades six through eight and the Junior Frontier Club for males in high school.

click to enlarge Springfield Frontiers International: Advancement through service
Springfield Frontiers International has been hosting an annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast for 49 years.
Derrick Stapleton knows first-hand the invaluable benefits the organization offers young men. Stapleton has served as president of the club and currently serves as coordinator of the Positive Youth Development program and the Junior Frontier Club. He believes the most important aspect of the work accomplished by Springfield Frontiers International "is reaching the young males of Springfield and surrounding communities."

The PYD program launched during the 1991-92 school year and helps mostly young, African American males develop as leaders in their homes, churches, schools and the Springfield community. Each program offers opportunities to gain experience and be the positive influence by reaching goals in four specific areas: leadership, scholastics, citizenship and community service.

For those who stay in the PYD program, involvement pays off. Springfield Frontiers International offers an automatic $2,000 scholarship to any male who joins the PYD program when they are in sixth grade, a $1,000 scholarship to males who join in seventh grade, a $750 scholarship to those who join in eighth grade as long as they ultimately graduate from the Jr. Frontier Crew 33 Club. Scholarships are awarded upon enrollment into an accredited college or vocational training institute.

Stapleton said it is rewarding to be able to give scholarships to young people in need. Most challenging, he said, is not being able to give students a scholarship for all four years of college.

Funds raised by Springfield Frontiers International support two more scholarships named for two deceased members of the organization: the J.D. Washington 2K Scholarship, awarded to a young man that comes into the club's Positive Youth Development program in the sixth grade and continues to the Junior Frontiers program through the 12th grade; and the James Forstall General Scholarship, named in memory of The State Journal-Register's First Citizen winner for 2016, is open to any student graduating from a high school in Sangamon County.

Stapleton was drawn to Springfield Frontiers International after graduating from Western Illinois University. "As I was graduating from college," he recalled, "I realized I wanted to work with the Black males of my community. I was afforded that opportunity through the Frontiers."

click to enlarge Springfield Frontiers International: Advancement through service
Members of the Positive Youth Development program, for males in grades six through eight, with high school students from the Junior Frontiers Club
The mentoring programs serve dozens of young men annually and provide positive influence and encouragement to help them avoid peer pressures. Meeting topics include tips on how to interview for a job and may also provide interaction with potential employers and others in authority. All programs reinforce the importance of positive community involvement. The goals are to let young men know they are valued and encourage them to excel in school and become leaders in their communities.

Stapleton is a youth mentor and appreciates "seeing the young men you've mentored come back and reminisce about being in the programs – having them come back and talk to the young men. Also, there have been young men (who graduated and are) now sending their sons through our PYD program and Junior. Frontier Club."

The community can support Springfield Frontiers International by encouraging young men to participate in youth programs, by attending the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast and through donations.

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