Eric practices patience and learns to adapt to each of his boys' unique personalities.
Eric Newman was recognized in 2019 as a recipient of our Superstar Friend Award through the Superstar Foundation. We had the opportunity to interview Eric about his experiences as a Friend and why he thinks our work is so important.
Why were you first interested in Friends of the Children?
I find that this kind of work is a natural extension of who I am as a person. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the job description that I could get paid to do this. I am originally from Jefferson, S.C., about 1.5 hours south of Charlotte, where I currently work. I always enjoyed working with kids. During my teens, I tutored at a summer camp through my church. While in college, I taught English in Korea and mentored two male students, who are 21 and 22 now. Once I graduated, I went into the Enterprise Management Program and found that although it was a great experience, it wasn’t what I was looking for. From there, I went on to graduate school in San Francisco. I had originally planned to go into the Navy afterward, but then my dad passed away. This made me re-evaluate what was important in my life, which in turn influenced what I wanted to be doing and where I wanted to do it. I decided to move back closer to home and build a life around my family. I knew that my next career would have to be something heart-centered, something where I could have a lasting impact; that happened when I got this job as a Friend in December 2018.
What is a typical day or week like for you and your youth?
I have 8 boys, all in the second grade. My days start in the classroom, where many of my youth are in the same classes. During the time I’m in school, I help them with their classwork and behavior management while developing their Core Assets. Outside of class, we go to lots of different places – the office, park, library or cool events in the city.
My boys are active, so I try to make learning fun by turning lessons into games. We play “sight word hoops,” where if they get the answer right, they get to shoot the ball, and if they get it wrong, they do a push-up. I also incorporate safety this way by racing to see who can put their seatbelt on first when we get into the car; or if we’re outside walking, we’ll run to the corner of the sidewalk, “hit the brakes” (insert tire screeching sound effect), stop and wait at the cross-walk to look both ways before we start running again. Another activity we’ve been doing together to build skills for the future is playing store – one youth acts as a customer and the other as a cashier. This develops social skills and the ability to count money.
Why does this kind of work matter?
Some of the kids we work with don’t have a consistent, stable person in their life. They need that support and the opportunity to grow. I want my young men to grow into their higher potential – not their fullest potential because I believe that growth has no end. I hope that they develop an internal locus of control that empowers them to make a difference in society.
I’m learning to adapt to each kid by learning who they are authentically. Showing up and doing what I say, I will is really important to build a strong foundation of trust. It’s also good to show that I’m human and that I struggle at times too; as I believe it’s as equally important to display vulnerability.
My boys teach me humility and to be thankful. I grew up in a two-parent household and haven’t had to deal with many of the things that my kids have gone through – like being shot at or the death of a sibling. My youth has taught me to be grateful for what I have every day. I applaud them for being resilient despite their experiences. I remember that we are here for these kids, no matter what. If the kids are having a rough day, cursing you out and destroying things, just be patient. I have a mantra I use – take it one day at a time.
For Black History Month, who do you consider a hero in your community who informs your work?
My father is the black history figure who informs my work. I rely on the example he set for me growing up every day while working with my boys. He always taught me to take it “one day at a time” through the power of patience. Although my level of patience has grown, I will continue to try to be a little more patient each day.