- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - Hard hat in hand, Dominique Johnson slides onto the bench of a picnic table and greets Mike Gottfried, the man who founded Team Focus, a faith-based mentoring organization for fatherless boys.

Johnson, 20, is a welder for G.A. West & Co. in Chunchula. Reserved but with a quick smile, he makes good money — enough to help out his mom, who raised him in the Roger Williams housing project in Mobile.

He credits Team Focus for getting him where he is today. “It definitely made me focus more,” said Johnson, who studied welding at Bishop State Community College after high school. “I was introduced to people through Team Focus who helped me want to be successful.”

It could have easily gone the other way for Johnson, who grew up in a neighborhood where opportunities are rare. A director at the local Boys and Girls Club saw promise in the young man and referred him to the mentoring program and its camps.

“He’s got a plan. He wants to save his money,” says Gottfried, known more for his role as the former head football coach at several colleges and an ESPN football analyst. “His feet are on the ground.”

Team Focus and its camps offer young men like Johnson what they missed without a father in their lives. Sometimes, it’s a pat on the back or a hug. Sometimes it’s teaching them how to tie a necktie. At other times, it’s just being there to lend an ear and offer encouragement.

Since Gottfried and his wife, Mickey, launched the program in 2000, Gottfried, Education Director Danny White and volunteer mentors have worked with thousands of young men. Currently, there are 150 to 250 boys ages 10-18 directly involved in Team Focus, which operates nine chapters in Mobile, Semmes, Birmingham and Montgomery in Alabama and five other states: Ohio, Kentucky, Nevada, Florida and Texas.

Gottfried, who lost his father at age 11, knows what it’s like to miss a father’s guidance. “It’s a hurt that takes a long time to heal,” he said. “I missed some of the things a father should have taught me.”

In Johnson’s case, he had played three sports in high school and had undergone two ACL surgeries. It didn’t appear that sports would be an option at the next level. That was fine; he was ready to become a “working man.”

With the help of Team Focus, Johnson evaluated his options. He enrolled in a welding course at Bishop State and passed a certifying test. Then he searched for just the right job, which turned out to be G.A. West, a Mobile-based fabrication shop.

Two of Johnson’s mentors are the father and son duo of Chris and Paul Jones of Mobile. Chris Jones is a board member and volunteer for Team Focus. His son, Paul, directs a career development pilot project for the young men in the program. Johnson refers to them as “family” and currently lives at the elder Jones’ house.

Paul Jones said that he has worked with other volunteer programs but that he believes he can make a real difference with Team Focus. The program also expects the young men enrolled to put forth the effort to succeed, he said.

“The one thing I see more than anything with Team Focus is these kids are starved for male leadership,” said Chris Jones. “There are so many good kids (but) you can see how they could get on the wrong track.”

Jones, the father, said he has gotten just as much in return from his five years of work with Team Focus. When he attended his first camp as a mentor, the boys took him in, he said. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said.

Johnson will be one of three speakers at a Team Focus summit and leadership camp June 12-17. “He will share his story,” said Gottfried. “A key thing is listening and following through. He knows how. A lot of young people don’t know how to do that.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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