SOUTHWEST ASIA — Even while deployed to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Tech. Sgt. Tyron Fields is making a difference for the youth in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, through a nonprofit mentorship program called "Focus."
The program aims to help direct kids and teenagers who have been in juvenile detention facilities in a positive direction.
Born and raised in a rough neighborhood in North Charleston, Fields' childhood was heavily influenced by violence and drugs.
"My life today is very different from what it was," Fields said. "I grew up in a single-parent household which was tough on our whole family, especially my mother. I was influenced by my environment and I made poor choices; unfortunately what I didn't realize at the time was that my choices were influencing other, younger kids in my community to do the same."
Eventually focusing his efforts and energy in a more positive direction, Fields joined the Air Force with the encouragement and support of his mother.
"I've had some great mentors, in and out of the Air Force who have helped me get on the right path and stay on the right path. That was my intent when I started this program," Fields said.
For Fields, the mentorship program is a way to bring positive change to his neighborhood through the positive influence on children within the community.
"In my interactions with these kids and teens and from my own experience, I know they feel their options are limited," he said. "They think that because they made a mistake, that there's no way to get out from under that. With this program, we try to guide their focus and attention to the positive."
The mentorship program works with mentees to set and accomplish short-term goals.
"We live in a day and age of instant gratification," he said. "I've found that the kids need to see results quickly in order for them to stay committed, otherwise they lose interest and hope. Making small, realistic, short-term goals like giving back to the community in some form or fashion, working a summer job, or earning a GED (will) keep them focused; when that's done they are satisfied with their progress or accomplishment and ready to move to that next goal."
Currently stationed at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, Fields relies heavily on his co-founder, his mother Sheri Pearson, to ensure the intent of the program is upheld and continues to grow in his absence.
"Ideally, I would have loved to be more hands on with the program but being stationed overseas and now on this deployment, there's only so much I can do," Fields said. "I conduct weekly mentoring sessions via Skype or over the phone with mentees, and I stay fully connected with organization partners on all things affecting the program."
Approaching its second year since activation, Fields credited his mother and the handful of partnering organizations with the program's success.
"(The program) is still fairly new, but the community has been very receptive. We are incredibly lucky to have the support of local pastors, teachers and several local business owners," he said.
Juggling military duties and duties associated with co-founding a mentorship program is enough to keep anyone's plate full, but for Fields, the motivation to continue comes from the best place — the mentees.
"Our (mentees) have surpassed expectations and continue to grow; it is a great thing to see and be a part of," he said. "I see part of myself in the eyes of each of them. I've seen what they see; I was a child of that environment so I know what it's like. The Air Force gave me that wake up call to know not only that was I destined for greatness and positivity, but that I could bring the youth in my neighborhood with me on the journey; that's all I'm trying to do."