WAXAHACHIE, Texas (AP) — Cory Crayton stood before two of his mentors, a stolen phone in his hand. They gave the then sixth-grader an ultimatum — tell the truth or they were out of his life.
The Dallas Morning News reports Crayton recently recalled that defining moment in his life on a bus ride with the All About U Tweeners, a group of 25 South Dallas youngsters who were on a very special field trip.
“I’m here to tell the kids my story,” said Crayton, who in May graduated from James Madison High School.
The nonprofit Connecting City to Farm organization took Crayton and the other middle- and high school-aged kids to a Waxahachie farm to learn about making healthy eating decisions by seeing agriculture firsthand.
“They are our future and need to know how their food is raised and how they benefit,” said CCTF Executive Director Kris Habashy, 43.
The field trip was one of many that the Tweeners program has offered since its inception seven years ago. Created by Frazier Revitalization, a community betterment group, the program’s mission is to occupy kids during the summer who might drift into mischief otherwise.
“There’s so much violence … we have to give our kids something else to do,” said Frazier Community Engagement Liaison Ricky Cheatham.
Crayton joined the program as that wayward sixth-grader and became a Tweener success story.
“He never stole another thing after that phone,” Cheatham, one of Crayton’s mentors, said with a smile.
Many of the kids on the late-June trip had never visited a farm before. That gave 10-year-old Shaddarion Goodwin lots to speculate about as they headed toward their destination.
“I want to see a giraffe,” the Dade Middle School sixth-grader said.
“That’s a zoo!” her friend, 13-year old Imani Jones replied with a laugh.
As the minutes passed, urban streets faded into rural corn fields. The bus made its first Waxahachie stop by a field located inconspicuously next to a Whataburger.
When the Tweeners stepped outside, they were greeted by a man with a handlebar mustache, wearing a giant golden belt buckle and thick work boots. The man was 42-year-old first-generation farmer was John Paul Dineen III, who has farmed alongside his wife, Heather, for 25 years.
After learning about his 40-acre corn field, the kids ventured into it, some tiptoeing in, others dashing about, picking ears.
One of those was 13-year old Charisma Williams, who learned about “how big the cornfield is.” She couldn’t see herself farming for a living, though.
“It’s too hot,” the eighth-grader said from behind her reflective sunglasses.
Later, the kids loaded up in the bus again and headed toward The Yellow Farmhouse, with Crayton sitting among them. Once he had been in their shoes, and back then, he exchanged those shoes for footwear of a different kind.
People kept telling him that he was “good at sports” so Crayton decided to join Madison’s track team.
His summers, of course, were still spent with the mentors, Cheatham and 39-year-old Quincy Guinyard, who pushed him to make different decisions.
“I came into Cory’s life because I saw everyone kicking him out,” said Guinyard, also a Frazier Community Engagement Liaison. “He was an outcast to the whole community.”
Crayton, who describes himself as usually quiet, lit up when talking about his first 400-meter race, which he ran in 51.8 seconds.
“I thought it was all right,” he said. “To everybody else, it was really good.”
Despite his early success, Crayton had bad form that had him “running sideways,” he said, motioning his arms rapidly side to side.
But by his senior year, he had cut his 400 time to 48.8 seconds. And in May, Madison’s mile relay team — with Crayton running a leg — took first place at the state meet in Austin.
“I almost cried; I can’t believe I kept up with them,” Crayton said.
As the bus slowed, Guinyard stood up in front of the Farm Day group. They had arrived at The Yellow Farmhouse.
The farm’s shop, though tiny, held four rooms filled with items like handmade jams and cooking napkins. One corner held a fridge stocked with frozen steaks and bacon.
The kids found their way to a small kitchen area, where the Dineen’s demonstrated how to grind grain. The kids leaned over in their seats to see the machine at work.
“They don’t have a relative in agriculture anymore,” John Paul Dineen said of this generation of kids. “We plant seeds so that kids grow up knowing the answers to their questions.”
Before getting their hands dirty, the kids were directed to a pastel purple restroom — they learned from the Dineens that the major cause of food-borne illnesses is unwashed hands.
They then took their seats at tables around the house. Making their own lunch, the kids poured and measured ingredients into a bowl under the direction of the farmers. One room mixed brownies; the others prepared cornbread.
“We needed brownie mix, water, vinegar, oil and vanilla,” 12-year-old Jeremiah Horn said. “I had to measure the cups.”
“Kids learn the best first hand,” said Kris Habashy of CCTF, and sponsor of Dallas’ first Farm Day. “Even when they go home, they say ‘I’m so thankful for the food in the supermarket. I came out here in these fields and saw the farmer has to care for it.'”
On the ride home, kids sat slumped in their seats, worn out after the busy day. Crayton looked distantly out the window and watched the rural scene turn to city streets again.
He’ll soon be leaving Dallas for a new home in College Station, where he has a full track scholarship at Texas A&M University awaiting him.
“It was a great achievement for me,” he said.
While Crayton races toward his new experience, the Tweeners program is sticking around to guide other teens to the right path. Like the Dineen farm, program leaders hope to reap what they sow.
“Crime comes with what a person is faced with,” Guinyard said thoughtfully. “You show them love, and you get something different.”
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com
–By MEARA ISENBERG
For more articles out of Texas, click here.