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.



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.”