Photography by Carissa Byers.

For the Love of the Lake, C.C. Young, Juliette Fowler and Woodrow Peace Pantry all have one thing in common: Young Men’s Service League, a group of boys that devoted 1,700 volunteer hours last year to neighborhood organizations. And they’re just getting started.

The Young Men’s Service League is a national nonprofit whose members are teenage boys and their moms. They volunteer together to serve their communities. The local chapter was formed last year by neighbor Amanda Cecil, who had heard about the league from friends in other parts of Dallas.   

“Since Lakewood is my home, I thought we needed this organization in our neighborhood,” Cecil says. “I didn’t like the idea of joining a different group not in our neighborhood because I wanted to make an impact in East Dallas.”

She recruited some other like-minded moms and got busy. “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but it was so worth it,” she says.

The goal is to recruit members in East Dallas and the Woodrow Wilson High School feeder pattern. Most current members, now numbering 135, attend Woodrow, but others live in the area.   

“It’s important as parents that we instill giving back and service in our children,” Cecil says. “I wanted my children to understand that part of their job as humans is to give back and provide support, love and service to those who are less fortunate or don’t have the same resources.”  

Neighbor Carol Riemer is a recruit. When she and her son, Daniel, a junior at Woodrow, were asked to get involved, they jumped in. 

“It appealed to me because it offered a structured opportunity to do some community service,” she says. “We are fortunate to have most of our needs met, but life could have easily gone in a different direction, and it could have been us needing kindness and help.”

The boys are required to complete a minimum of 20 hours of community service, 10 of which are completed as a mother-son team. Most of those service hours are completed right here in our neighborhood. For the Love of the Lake’s shoreline cleanup is a frequent beneficiary. 

“White Rock Lake is where a lot of life happens in East Dallas, so I feel a certain obligation to give back to it,” Riemer says. “Daniel and I get frustrated at the amount of trash in the water.”

Not far from the lake is C.C. Young Senior Living where the boys interact with the residents — playing board games, providing tech support and spending time with those who live there. At nearby Juliette Fowler Communities, they do the same and help with gardening.

At Woodrow, the boys volunteer at the Peace Pantry, which provides food, clothing and toiletries to students in need. Last fall, they helped pack Thanksgiving food and cooking supplies, which needy students took home to enjoy with their families. Hunger Busters is another charity on the list. The organization provides meals to food-insecure children in Dallas ISD schools. Daniel says he enjoys packing lunches because he feels accomplished seeing them lined up and ready to go.

The Boys and Girls Club of East Dallas is a favorite cause for member Avery Levy. 

“My friends and I got the chance to help kids play kickball and draw pictures,” he says. “Being teenagers, we relate to the kids better, and I feel like they enjoy being able to play sports with us. Hopefully our young age allows us to become role models and friends with these kids too.”

The boys and their moms branch out beyond the neighborhood, too, at Special Olympics, Heart House and Bonton Farms, a community garden in south Dallas. League member and Woodrow student Hunter Cecil says he enjoys grooming the plants and working outdoors.

Each teen is required to hold a job in the chapter and participate in five meetings, during which they might learn about changing a tire, self defense, financial responsibility and more. The mother-son bonding is a bonus. 

“Our relationship has changed,” says Dawn Levy. “The scope of what we talk about has broadened because we spend time volunteering together and discuss the experiences afterward.”

Daniel treasures his work at an urban school, where he and others set up a garden, playground and tool shed. 

“It felt good to help a community that didn’t have these before,” he says. “The smile on their faces was worth the sweat and time.”

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