At Dugan & Associates, we seek to use our blog to help bring attention to the people working hard to make our communities better.
Kevin McNair is a leader devoted to helping at-risk kids better their lives using both traditional and innovative methods. This Pittsburgh resident has made it his mission to help kids carve their own paths to success, and he’s doing it through his own nonprofit program, 1Nation Mentoring.
McNair’s desire to help at-risk African American youth was motivated by personal tragedy. While he was attending college at Slippery Rock University, his cousin was killed at a homecoming party at California University of Pennsylvania. McNair had been taking a class on nonprofit leadership at the time, and while he hadn’t initially poured his heart into the course, the loss of his cousin changed his perspective. “The teacher saw how devastated I was, but also that I was a leader,” says McNair. “She asked me, ‘How can I transform your grief into something good?'”
McNair retook the class with the intent of making a difference in his community. He decided to be a Heinz Fellow and develop the necessary skills to help urban students make the most out of their education. But McNair knew that his service wasn’t going to stop once the program concluded, and he teamed up with Heinz Fellows Lloyd Cheatom and Sam Morant to create 1Nation.
Many mentoring programs offer guidance to kids through after-school and summer programs, which can help kids develop life and study skills through workshops and day trips to colleges and cultural events. 1Nation sets itself apart by also offering an in-school program, integrating development into the whole of their education. The organization’s mentors work with school staff to help the kids develop strategies to improve their classroom habits and peer interactions, which is something McNair believes is lacking in other mentoring programs. “A lot of organizations do great work with kids in the summertime, but then once the kids go back to school, they’re by themselves,” he says. “We help their teachers understand how to make the biggest impact on their students. We make sure the kids never feel alone.”
1Nation is a small organization, but McNair, Cheatom, and Morant’s efforts are made possible through summertime volunteers and successful professionals, like NFL players to financial advisors, who come into the schools and speak about their careers. “These kids see football players and millionaires on TV without seeing the little things that make those big goals possible. We make sure they’re prepared for the next steps — that if they want to be a doctor, they have to be good at math and science first,” says McNair.
Once the kids of 1Nation receive guidance from their mentors and improve their academics, attendance, and behavior, those steps become more achievable. “We see a mind shift. The kids go from being a part of their environment to being a critical asset of their environment,” says McNair. “People think that these kids are broken, but they want to be great. We meet them where they are and hold them to higher expectations of greatness, and they answer that call.”
The results are changing not only the kids, but their communities. Troubled high school students are growing up to attend college or start their own businesses, breaking away from the negative influences of the system they were born into. For McNair, that transformation is the greatest reward for the work he does. “We have some guys who are more academically successful than others. Some of them create their own clothing lines or travel the world. But for me, the biggest success stories are the guys who used to rob people and are now good people. Knowing they’re growing instead of sitting in jail is the biggest win for me.”
1Nation still has some growing to do of its own, and McNair plans to expand the program to more schools, enabling more teachers and families to impact the children who need it most. But no matter what happens in the organization’s future, the principles that have helped it reach so many kids will stay the same. “Our kids know that we love them.,” says McNair. “I’m just doing what I’m able to do by genuinely wanting to make a difference. It’s an honor and a blessing to be in the space I’m in.”