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Cleveland pastor is making sure children without father figures are not left behind

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Oct 07, 2021

CLEVELAND — Growing up with an absent father in a broken home changed the course of Pastor Jerry Mitchell's life. His childhood trauma would become the catalyst to create an organization that saves and helps guide children who grew up like him.

“I grew up in a broken home. Out of nowhere my dad just left my mom, just like that,” Mitchell said.

The emotional event would be the motivator for Mitchell to create The Joshua and Caleb Leadership Center, a faith-based organization providing unfathered and at-risk youth with support and hope.

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Pastor Jerry Mitchell.

“I approach them with real empathy, a real understanding,” he said.

Mitchell believes there is a disconnection between loving parents and trying to raise a child in this day and age. He said the generational deconstruction of the family is not going to change unless it is interrupted.

The center’s mission is to interrupt that disconnection by doing group activities, sports outings, leadership conferences and providing mentorship.

“The No. 1 way in which a child in poverty, to get that child out of poverty, is to connect that child with a safe adult who invests in them,” Mitchell said.

Before 17-year-old Brandon Southgate, a junior at Lutheran West High School, met Mitchell, he said he felt isolated.

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Brandon Southgate and his mentor.

“Now that I'm like in Joshua and Caleb Leadership Center I feel more open to talking about my feelings,” he said.

Southgate has been at the center since the 5th grade. He loves playing basketball. He said it’s evident that Mitchell and the other kids at the center care.

"Pastor Jerry was really a light in my world and really kept me focused. "I feel like nowadays teenagers don't really have like a person they can go to and feel like they are there for me."

Through the center, Southgate found a mentor and friends.

"Like we'll play basketball together, talk our smack. Or we'll go and get food. Have a little chill day, talk about what's going on, keeping up with life and just really getting into the Bible and applying that to our lives. It's definitely opened up my faith more," he said.

Southgate has become a well-rounded student with good grades, excelling in chemistry and physics.

For Mitchell, teens like Southgate are evidence that proves faith and some hard work can change a young person’s life.

"I first met Brandon he was a 5th-grade little kid. And to see him now as a young man...he's polite, he's kind, great athlete, competitive, strong honest," Mitchell said.

Click here for more info on the leadership center.

This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.