Editor’s note: This blogpost was written as a part of Ringling College of Art and Design’s Storytelling for Community Engagement: Ringling Student Views course, fall semester 2022, led by instructor Sylvia Whitman. Students were paired with nonprofits to learn about their mission and impact, and the post that follows shares the story of Brotherhood of Men.
The project was completed as part of a collaboration with The Glasser/Schoenbaum Human Services Center. Many thanks to Charlene Altenhain and Sarah Glendening, especially, for their coordination of student writers to nonprofit organizations.
It was a fresh Thursday morning in August 2007 when the message appeared in Dr. Dwight Fitch’s inbox. “Let’s Welcome the Brotherhood of Men.” It had been sent from a news reporter doing a story about a new mentor group—his group—that had formed less than six months before.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Fitch in person. He shared with me the creation and heart of Brotherhood of Men—a group of mentors who meet with boys to help them along in their life journeys to secure a better future. Hearing Fitch’s story, I, too, was fascinated by the strength and generosity of this group.
In the beginning, Dominic Harris saw the troubles of the Sarasota neighborhood of Newtown and wanted to create a safe haven for the kids of the community. In April 2007, Brotherhood of Men founder and leader Harris met Fitch. They discussed matters at hand and found their mission. From that moment on, Fitch was captivated.
Fitch told me something that Harris often says: “If you’re not giving with purpose, then what’s the point of living? The whole idea is, What is your gift to share with the world?”
Dwight Fitch, husband and father, has been working in Bradenton as a radiation oncologist for the past 16 years. He was born and raised in Detroit and arrived in Bradenton in 2006. Fitch had been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters while he was in college. As he became more deeply engaged with Brotherhood of Men, the story of the boys whom the nonprofit had taken under its wing moved him; it reminded him of himself.
He saw these boys as a reflection, and then he also realized that they were no different from his own sons. It became clear to Fitch that all of these kids were the same; they just grew up in a different place, with things outside their control. They needed support from adults who had a shoulder to cry on, knowledge to feed off of, and love to give.
So, every Thursday, Fitch and the other volunteers with Brotherhood of Men would get together to talk with the kiddos, teach them life lessons, help them with grades and homework, comfort them when they were upset about something, and more.
“All we really do is show them love in a different way and try to expose them to things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to see,” Fitch told me. They see “people who look like them who are in professional positions … taking them to plays, theatres, doing things they wouldn’t normally do because of circumstances, and helping them think outside the box. It’s just having a big, loving group of diverse people who care.”
That was 15 years ago. Fitch and the others are still doing it. And they’re growing only bigger and stronger. Brotherhood of Men has had over a thousand children come through the group. They run a program for boys ages 5 to 18. Every week they meet on Thursday from 6 to 8 pm. The mentors do their best to help teach the kids about money, taxes, politics, mortgages, savings, and many other vital life lessons. Mentors have expanded boys’ artistic horizons, taught them instruments, and encouraged them to try things that are different. Brotherhood members have helped some boys raise their GPAs to 4.0s—and even gotten a good handful into prestigious colleges.
All of the mentors are volunteers; none of them has ever received a salary. They arrive simply because they want to help and support the children. Every dollar that is donated goes straight into the group. The organization leans heavily on grants, donations, and just the kindness of others. It’s how they afford snacks and supplies for Thursdays. Thanks to grants, Brotherhood mentors have taken kids on trips across the country—and to college campuses to get a feel for what they might do in the future.
“We’re all about teaching generosity and empathy. If everyone could get out of their inner circle just for a little bit and lend a helping hand to others, I feel that the world could be a much better place for everyone,” Fitch says.
“These kids are our passion. When we offer ourselves to help, we end up gaining more than we think. And that is exactly what drives the Brotherhood of Men. The mentors give a little of themselves to the children they care for every Thursday, and whenever a child graduates, a little more is given back. Most importantly, love.”