Each year, Seedling is pleased to present the “Angels & Advocates Award” to someone who has been of significant impact on the Seedling Mentor Program. It is presented to recognize a person who has made an “extraordinary contribution, which will improve the lives of children challenged by parental incarceration.”
We are proud to announce that the 2016 recipient of this award is Mr. Leroy Nellis, and we would like to introduce him to you! Leroy received his award at the Seedling Mentor Appreciation Luncheon on May 20, 2016. If you would like to see a video of Leroy’s exuberant acceptance speech, click HERE!
Leroy, tell us a bit about your mentoring background, outside of Seedling.
“My interest in mentoring began fourteen years ago, after annual tours of all the Travis County adult and juvenile jail facilities as a part of my duties as Travis County Budget Director made me aware of our increasing prison population. I decided to get involved with mentoring high-risk children to help them avoid the criminal justice system. I called Austin Independent School District (AISD) and asked for the most challenging kindergarten student in the district. Mr. Mendoza immediately said they had just the student for me.”
“Frederick was a kindergartener in an East Austin elementary school. When I visited and talked to the Assistant Principal, she tried to talk me out of mentoring this particular kindergarten student due to his challenges. I told her that Frederick was just the student I wanted to mentor. This was the beginning of my fourteen-year mentoring journey. At first, Frederick was distant, and not sure what a mentor was supposed to be, but over several months we became best friends through sharing lunch and recess once a week. The Assistant Principal later said that Frederick’s behavior had significantly improved and she rarely saw him in her office!”
“Excited by that progress, I began assisting AISD by recruiting other volunteers to mentor. Frederick had a friend named Johnny who liked to follow along at recess and always asked when he could get a mentor, too. I would tell him I was working on it. It was difficult to recruit at Travis County for mentors for this East Austin elementary school because of its distance from downtown. Distance made no difference to me since my boss didn’t care when I put in my sixty hours per week of work!”
“Eventually, I asked the Assistant Principal if I could also mentor Johnny but she informed me that his mother wouldn’t let anyone mentor him. I told him that, and he must have talked her into it, because the next week Johnny had permission from his mother and I began to mentor him, as well. Thus my tradition of mentoring two students began. Over the next eight years, I followed these two students through transfers to six different schools in four different districts.”
How did you get involved with Seedling Mentor Program?
“When the Seedling Mentor Program was established in 2006, I began mentoring a student in its program in addition to continuing to mentor a student in another program. Ever since, I have routinely mentored at least two students and sometimes three, providing each student (at different lunch periods and different schools) a little of my time to listen to them and try to help them.
I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to see these very deserving children run down the halls when they see me coming to have lunch with them, greeting me with a big smile and, ‘Hi, Mr. Leroy!’ The teachers and principals are often as appreciative as the kids, and my lovely wife Lupita loves to hear my stories. “
“I retired from Travis County as Budget Director in 2013 and joined the Seedling Foundation Board of Directors. What a passionate group of individuals! Their common purpose is to provide leadership for the best mentoring program in Central Texas by providing support to the staff in policy development, resources, and volunteer recruitment.”
What is it that draws you to donate to Seedling as your charity of choice?
“In my opinion, the Seedling Mentor Program serves as the most cost-effective program for improving our community by helping our high-risk children avoid the criminal justice system. That is the reason I contribute the majority of my charitable contributions to the Seedling Foundation each year.”
Is there a special mentoring story you would like to share with us?
“I have had individuals ask me if I mentor these children because I don’t have children and grandchildren of my own. The truth is that my wife and I have nine children and fifteen grandchildren who are all glad that I take time to mentor these children.”
“If you are wondering what happened to Frederick, I lost track of him in the eighth grade when he moved to the Dallas area. Last summer I asked an American-Statesman reporter to assist me in locating him. To my delight, she was able to locate him and arranged a lunch. He explained to us that he lettered in football for four years, stayed drug-free, graduated, and is attending a small Texas University.”
“When the reporter asked Frederick why he stayed in school and stayed off drugs he replied, ”Because Mr. Leroy had me tell a lot of people that I would say no to drugs, study hard, stay in school and go to college!”
“The mentors in the Seedling Mentor Program make a difference in over 600 students’ lives each year and I’m proud to be a small part of this successful mentoring program and very honored to be its 2016 Angels & Advocates award recipient.”
Congratulations, Mr. Leroy!