Building Men Program aims to instill values in Syracuse boys

Syracuse school program instills values in boys

Former teacher Joe Horan started the school youth organization as a way to motivate boys transitioning into adulthood.
Published: December 13, 2019
Building Young Men Program - Syracuse, New York
Members of Syracuse's Building Men Program.

What today’s world considers manhood really irks Joe Horan.

“Society defines manhood that you have to be a good athlete, be successful with one or many women and have a lot of money,” Horan said.

As a physical education teacher in Syracuse city schools, Horan saw these kinds of expectations being placed on boys in the 1990s and early 2000s.

But rather than simply stew about, he created the Building Men Program, an organization that since 2006 has aimed to instill integrity, leadership skills and direction for boys as they transitioning into adulthood.

“I realized if somebody doesn’t teach them that manhood is something more than that, they’re all going to fall into the same problems trying to chase the money, the girls or sports,” Horan said

Joe Horan working with Building Young Men - Syracuse New York

When planning this recalibration of expectations and morals for males in society, Horan focused on the ground floor: middle school, an age where manhood is creeping around the corner and a time when good habits can still potentially be cultivated and developed.

The process of building boys into men is neither a grueling nor a simple one. It takes time, patience and understanding, Horan said.

He starts with simple, fun activities, such as basketball, soccer and baseball. Kids also play puzzle and board games and build contraptions that stimulate thoughtful thinking.

“They’re kids, they’ll do just about anything,” Horan quipped.

Then, come high school, the boys grow involved with community service, teaching them how to be quality citizens and reinforcing the values Horan finds important for boys to fully understand.

“Manhood to me is being able to have relationships, integrity and significance,” Horan said. “The bottom line is we want them to know they have a purpose and are valued.”

The program is active in eight middle schools and five high schools in the Syracuse City Schools district where Horan has worked since 1993.

Horan, 56, said more than 200 students participated in the program during the 2018-19 school year and he expects participation to continue to grow.

The program has been invaluable for many participants whose testimonies paint a clear picture of the good Horan is doing.

“Building men has brought out a better character in me that I ever knew,” said Yasin Hassan. “It also made me more social, not just with people I know, but with the community.”

The program has empowered these boys to, quite literally, become men.

“[Building Men] has taught me how to carry myself as a man, how to give respect before earning it, and a strong sense of brotherhood,” said Cabdisalan Sheek Nuur, who has been in the program for the past five years.

There have been so many stories through the years that Horan has lost track, but one memory has stuck with him forever. A few years back, Building Men had two community service functions in one day: one on Syracuse’s east side and one on the southside. Two members who live on the east side missed the occasion, so they bussed all the way to the southside to make up for it.

Going to an entirely different part of town, not knowing anyone yet still wanting to go because of the program, had Horan emotional.

“I thought that was so cool that they went and hung out with guys they didn’t know, just to be part of it and they felt safe doing it because they knew they were going to the Building Men Program,” Horan said. “Having that kind of unity is awesome.”

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is a contributor to The NewsHouse.