Our Person of the Week is a high school community outreach director who helps transform kids' lives
10:41 PM, Sep 9, 2016
9:35 PM, Apr 21, 2017
DETROIT (WXYZ) - He knows the President and has an office full of pictures with Hollywood Stars and legendary activists.
The FBI even gave him a Director's Community Leadership Award in 2015, and it's all for only one reason - his passion to put young people first.
In the home of the Panthers there is another mascot.
He's about 6'2", suited up with a smile and holds a pep rally in his heart every day - routing for the best team there is.
"Our young people need help and we as adults have to do our job and help our young people."
Tarence Wheeler is the Director of Community Outreach and Parent Engagement for River Rouge School District, but any one of the students will tell you his engagement is what gives them direction.
"When i told him I get up at 5:00 every morning, he said 'Okay, well, where do you live?' I wrote down my address and I gave it to him and the next day I was walking to the bus stop and the bus was riding past me to go to my house and it pulled up to my house and I got on. Kind gesture, nothing to him, but a very powerful one to me," says Senior LeAndrew Jefferson.
Tarence knows first st hand how the emotional and economic toll on a kid at home affect what happens in the classroom.
"If the lights and gas are off, the kid ain't doing homework. If you are homeless and hungry, homework is a non-factor," he says. "You gotta help mom and dad, you gotta help that kid."
Tarence says his success comes from a community of people who helped him: From his basketball coach to his grandfather.
He grew up on Vinewood and Michigan, graduated from Southwestern High School and shares a not so special connection with most of the kids he's working to transform.
"My mother was on drugs. My father was absent. I was homeless," he says. "I opened the refrigerator and nothing was in there. We were evicted, on government assistance, you name it. So, when I look at these kids, I look at myself and say how can I help these kids."
He answers his own question not only daily, but annually, giving away 300 backpacks filled with toiletries, a coat drive, a tax program and felony expungement program for moms and dads. Also, an all star turkey give away with Hollywood stars like Mike Epps and Big Sean.
He has even met the President.
"If I can go from the biggest drug house on the west side of Detroit to the White House then back to the White House they can too," he says.
River Rouge Superintendent Derrick Coleman says families feel empowered, the district has doubled in size and Tarence is a huge part of that.
So, for helping young people navigate the challenges, to make better choices for a better outcome, Tarence Wheeler you are our Person of the Week.
"I don't give accolades, most kids don't even know I played basketball at a high level, or that i graduated with honors, because that don't matter." he says "What matters is, are you going to help me. Can I come to you in my time of need and you help me. It only matters when it matters."
Tarence will be back at the White House on September 19 to speak about trauma concerning girls of color.
He plans to give away about 4,000 turkeys this year during his annual event. It will be November 22 at River Rouge High School and don't be surprised if you see Big Sean, Mike Epps and some major sports and government figures with him.