- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - Darius Asher said it was his mother who pushed him to attend the Alpha Gents Leadership academy in 2013, but he admits he’s glad he did.

“It was so beneficial,” said Asher, a Florence High School graduate and current student at the University of North Alabama. “It was a great building block for the rest of my life.”

Asher was a part of the first Alpha Gents Academy, which had seven members.

“What I learned has really stuck with me, and has been so helpful as I continue with my education,” he said.

Josh Dixon, a Deshler High graduate, was a part of the 2014 Alpha Gents class. He’s now at Northwest-Shoals Community College.

“First and foremost, we learned how to be a gentleman,” Dixon said, “and how important an education is.”

The Alpha Gents Academy is an eight-month program of the Kappa Nu Lamdba Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

“It’s a mentoring program, teaching these young men how to be leaders in our community,” said Larry Softley, a fraternity member and one of the organizers of Alpha Gents. “These young men are the leaders of tomorrow and through this program, we’re trying to teach them leadership skills.”

This is the third year for the program. Softley said after having seven and eight students attend the first two years, there were 12 in this year’s program that recently concluded with a gala.

“I wish we would have had a program like this when I was a senior in school,” said Rod Sheppard, a fraternity member and another program organizer.

Sheppard said the idea of Alpha Gents Academy had been talked about among chapter members for some time. It was on a trip that Sheppard, Softley, Levon Humphrey and Derrick Chatman, all members of the fraternity, talked about the program and what it would take to make it happen.

“We decided it was time to stop talking about it and get started, so we did,” Sheppard said.

Softley said letters are sent to high school counselors in city schools in Lauderdale and Colbert counties to get recommendations for the program, which runs September to March. The program consists of a series of “hands-on workshops.”

“They cover a wide variety of things from how to prepare for a job interview, how to dress for a job interview, to dining etiquette, to dating etiquette, to teenage pregnancy, to how to get financial aid for college and prepare for college,” Softley said.

“We even learned how to tie a tie,” said Nick Aubrey, a senior at Deshler and member of the 2014 Alpha Gents class. “I knew how to tie a regular tie, but I learned how to tie a bow tie as well.”

Florence High senior Roland Adams’ brother was a member of the 2013 Alpha Gents class.

“I saw what he learned from the program and I was excited to be a part of it this year,” Adams said. “You learn manners, how to treat your date. You leave the program a better young man; you leave a gentleman.”

Softley said the young men in the program also get a new black suit when they complete and program, and the opportunity to earn scholarship money. He said in three years, the program has given out $13,000 in scholarship money.

“Every one of the guys who have been through the first two programs, have gone on to college, and these 12 who are in this group are going on to college next year,” Softley said.

Fundraisers held throughout the year by the fraternity help finance the program and the scholarships.

“We talk about real-life situations and how to be successful as we go through life,” said Aubrey, who is going to the University of Memphis to study human health performance and development. “You go into the program not knowing what to expect and come out a better person.”

Adams will be attending Samford this fall to study business management.

“I would most definitely recommend the program to others,” Adams said. “You get much more out of it than you think you will. This just help build on what my parents had already instilled in me.”

Sheppard and Softley want to see the program continue.

“We’re trying to mold these young men into becoming productive citizens,” Sheppard said. “When you see them start the program and then finish it, and see what they have gained, it’s awesome to know we’re making a difference in these kids and helping them be leaders of the future.”

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Information from: TimesDaily, https://www.timesdaily.com/

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