Steakhouse treat be­comes a les­son in life's man­ners

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By DAPHNE TAY­LOR Spe­cial to South Florida Times

GREENACRES, Fla. - It's no se­cret that a meal at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse could be very ex­pen­sive for a young stu­dent.

And then comes the chal­lenge of know­ing which knife and fork to use. Re­cently the young boys and girls from Tradewinds Mid­dle School in Greenacres were able to dine at the exclusive restau­rant and put their fine din­ing skills to use.

While din­ing on filet mignon, the stu­dents knew just which fork to use and how to cut their meat.

"I re­ally wanted to get them into a five-star din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence," said Lau­renzo Haynes, one of the founders of Young Men of Ex­cel­lence and a dean at the school. "Ruth's Chris of­fered us a spe­cial deal and we were able to raise money as well," he said.

Fine din­ing eti­quette is just one of the skills the Young Men and Women of Ex­cel­lence learn in their men­tor­ing pro­gram at the Ti­tle I school where most stu­dents are from low-in­come fam­i­lies and re­ceive free lunch.

Prior to the din­ner, the stu­dents learned proper table man­ners. At Ruth's Chris, they knew how to place their nap­kins, cut their meat, and how to en­joy their meal with the proper uten­sils and feel com­fort­able at the din­ing table.

Cindy Jimenez is the di­rec­tor of the Young Women of Ex­cel­lence and Al­li­son De­gre­gory taught ev­ery­one the eti­quette of din­ing.

Ethan Man­dorfs-Velez, a grad­u­ate of the pro­gram who comes back reg­u­larly to help out, says he's pleased with the fine din­ing com­po­nent because "it gives us some­thing to look for­ward to other than McDonald's."

Haynes and the school’s assistant prin­ci­pal Gre­gory Kirk­wood, founded the pro­gram to pro­vide their stu­dents bet­ter op­tions in life. Most of the stu­dents are from sin­gle par­ent homes. "We wanted to try to help young men nav­i­gate through mid­dle and high school, young adult­hood and even life," Haynes pointed out. "We teach them self de­ter­mi­na­tion, in­tegrity, ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct in all sit­u­a­tions; com­mu­nity ser­vice, dress­ing for suc­cess, per­sonal hy­giene, col­lege readi­ness, fi­nan­cial em­pow­er­ment, tech­nol­ogy re­in­force­ment and so much more."

Haynes says the pro­gram is highly valu­able to the stu­dents as well as the com­mu­nity because it makes the stu­dents bet­ter cit­i­zens and more equipped to im­pact their com­mu­nity in a pos­i­tive way.

"The value and price of some­thing like this is far reach­ing. If the stu­dents ac­cept this pro­gram and grow with it, it would make our world a bet­ter place," he said. "Some of these kids don't know that a Ruth's Chris ex­ists in their world."

Man­dorfs-Velez said his life changed with his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pro­gram. Through the leadership com­po­nent, he had the courage and where­withal to start his own busi­nesses --four of them --start­ing at age 13. Now the 18-yearold is the pro­pri­etor of two cloth­ing busi­nesses, a pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness and a car de­tail­ing busi­ness. He said he needed to help his mother --a sin­gle par­ent.

"I started my busi­nesses out of a need to help my fam­ily," he said. "I learned how to con­duct my­self in all sit­u­a­tions through this pro­gram. I learned about re­spect and con­fi­dence."

Haynes said that was the goal from the be­gin­ning. "Through this pro­gram, you open them up to (sic) world of pos­si­bil­i­ties."

PHOTO BY ALAN LUBY FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES

MAN­NERS MATTER: Lau­renzo Haynes, co-founder of Young Men of Ex­cel­lence Pro­gram at Tradewinds Mid­dle School, over­sees his stu­dents din­ing at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in West Palm Beach.

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