LAUREL HILL — James McLean had a dream to create a mentorship program to show young men the importance of citizenship, teamwork, dedication and a strong work ethic.
In 2014, the Laurel Hill educator turned that dream into reality with the creation of The Blue Blazers, a program for boys at Carver Middle School.
Since its founding, more than 60 students have been invited to join the program, participating in monthly community service projects such as an annual Christmas toy drive, cleaning up litter along local roads and parks, and interacting with positive role models.
They also learn life skills like how to properly greet someone—making eye contact and a firm handshake—as well as things like accountability, showing up on time to appointments, and why courtesy is important. Each member also receives a namesake blue blazer at no cost.
McLean’s program was selected by First Bank to be among the final winners of its “Dream It. Do It.” contest, awarding him $10,000 to support the ongoing work of the Blue Blazers.
“I am overwhelmed,” McLean said at recent program presenting him and members of the Blue Blazers with a check. “I would like to thank First Bank for believing in our dream and supporting our vision.”
McLean, who also serves as Carver’s football coach, said he also appreciated the support of Superintendent Ron Hargrave, Carver Principal Mary Hemphill, JOY Ministry Church, and his wife LaTonya McLean, principal at I. Ellis Johnson Elementary.
“I am also thankful for mentors that share our vision of being influential for change in the lives of young folk” McLean said. “First Bank has planted a seed in my guys that will eventually grow and produce transformation within our community. I am humbled and appreciative for their recognition of the Blue Blazers.”
McLean said he plans to use the money to enhance the program’s community outreach, provide additional enrichment and learning activities for members during the summer, and to purchase more blazers to accommodate the program’s growth.
To become a member of the Blue Blazers, students have to be nominated by a current member and once they join the group, they are a member forever.
“It’s tough to get in but you’re a blazer for life,” said McLean. “We want these kids to just be the face of Carver but the face of our community. Our goal is to work with these kids forever. Eighth grade is a tough time for these young men, and young ladies, our goal is not to put you in a blazer for three months. Our goal is to be with your forever and ever amen.”
The advisors, especially McLean, are passionate about the Blue Blazers program because they know it makes a difference in the lives of the young men that are selected to join.
“We want to be that influential piece in their life,” he said. “When we get these kids they are 11 years old in the sixth grade, they don’t get blazers until the eighth grade. We get 540 days with them — 180 days each school year — our goal is to go beyond those 540 days and be with them at the high school. Long-term life lessons are one of the key things we’re trying to teach.”
The “Dream It. Do It.” campaign was launched in April 2017 to highlight First Bank’s commitment to serving the people of North and South Carolina. Throughout the year-long contest, the bank awarded a total of $100,000 to individuals with $25,000 given away every three months to winners selected by a committee of First Bank employees in partnership with a nonprofit organization.
“First Bank is honored that so many people from across North Carolina and South Carolina chose to share their dreams with us,” said Michael Mayer, president and CEO of First Bank. “We are pleased that we were able to help bring the dreams of 10 individuals a bit closer to reality over the past year, especially since we know many of them, like the dream of James McLean, will have a long lasting impact in their communities.”
The contest ended on March 31 and had more than 3,300 entries submitted from more than 500 cities and towns across the Carolinas.
Reach Katelin Gandee at 910-506-3171