Noe Valley Voice June 2006

Former Convent Becomes a Haven for Teen Boys

By Lorraine Sanders

Reymark Renigen, 13, and Joshua Thierry, 14, do not like rules, especially stupid ones. Bedtimes, for example, are stupid. The rule about not sitting on the coffee table? Also stupid. And not being able to play video games during the week? If you guessed stupid, you guessed right.

"Ask them if they like cheese with their whine," prompts Mark Ryan, program director for the San Francisco chapter of Boys Hope Girls Hope, located on 24th Street near Diamond in a three-story building that once housed Catholic nuns. A dramatic statue of the Virgin Mary just inside the front door and the convent's chapel--replete with stained-glass windows--are reminders of the building's past. But the new residents are impatient for the future.

Thierry rolls his eyes and slumps deeper into the sofa in the common living room. Renigen just smiles his toothy grin, something he does often. Were it not for their involvement in Boys Hope Girls Hope, a nationwide program that offers a stable environment and a good education to at-risk middle and high school students, both boys would have fewer stupid rules to contend with. They would also have much less help navigating the road ahead, a road that will take them through high school, on to college, and beyond.

Thierry hopes the road will lead him to a position on a college football team and eventually to a professional football career, ideally with the San Francisco 49ers. Living at Boys Hope may curtail the freedom he relishes every other weekend when he visits his family in Sunnydale, but the ninth-grader grudgingly concedes that the program has its upsides. The food is good, he admits, and attending St. Ignatius Catholic School, for example, offers him the chance to get a better education than he would have received outside the program.

"You learn more, and they actually, like, teach you something," he says.

For Renigen, who becomes visibly excited when talking about the World of Warcraft video game he gets to play when he visits home, a successful career is the goal.

"I want to go to college and get a good job," he says simply.

For now, the eighth-grader at Our Lady of Mercy Elementary School in Daly City is content to play on computers and hang out with his friends. He also likes science classes, especially biology.

"You do, like, things that you want. We're going to dissect a frog. It's not just books," he says.

Bright Kids with Spark

Renigen and Thierry are two of the six boys, ages 12 to 16, who currently live in the Boys Hope Girls Hope house, which moved to Noe Valley from South San Francisco in January 2006. The local program is affiliated with Boys Hope Girls Hope International, a private, non-profit, non-denominational organization founded in St. Louis, Mo., in 1975.

The new location in Noe Valley means more space, so the program plans to welcome four more boys within the next year. The San Francisco chapter also hopes to open a similar house for girls someday. To join the program, children must be referred by a third party.

"Referrals come from a school principal or a counselor, social worker, and sometimes mentors," Ryan says.

While each Boys Hope participant has a unique set of circumstances, the boys all ended up here because someone recognized their potential and worried that their living situation might seriously jeopardize their chances in life. Oftentimes, Ryan says, the boys are being raised by grandparents or have so many siblings that they lack the personal attention and supervision they need to excel.

Unlike many high school kids who, for one reason or another, end up living apart from their parents or in foster homes, these boys are not victims of abuse, nor are they suffering from emotional disorders. They see their families every other weekend, and guests are allowed to visit whenever they want. The boys are bright kids who have the spark and motivation to go far in life. But they need help securing the basic building blocks to build a successful future: a supportive environment, a good education, and the chance to go to college.

Like a College Dorm

The boys' living quarters are much like a small college dorm, only better. Each boy has a private bedroom, where posters adorn the walls and stray socks dot the carpeted floor. Wireless Internet access runs throughout the upstairs. A communal study room on the second floor is outfitted with desktop computers, reference books, and plenty of space for spreading out. In the evenings, the two residential house parents who live with the boys can be found leaning over their charges' shoulders to help with homework assignments, required reading, and school projects.

"In a lot of ways, it functions like a boarding school," Ryan explains.

Each day, the boys wake up, eat breakfast, and head to their respective schools. In addition to St. Ignatius and Our Lady of Mercy, boys also attend Riordan High School and St. Philip School, nearby on Elizabeth Street. In the afternoons, they participate in after-school sports and other extracurricular activities before returning to the house to study, do their chores, and have dinner together. At day's end, they head to their rooms at their designated (but stupid) bedtimes.

Counseling and Scholarships

When they graduate from high school, Boys Hope Girls Hope will contribute $5,000 annually to the boys' college educations. In the hectic months leading up to high school graduation, Boys Hope Girls Hope walks its residents through the college application process and acts as a liaison for securing financial aid.

When the kids graduate and head out into the world, Ryan says, the hope is that they will take the program's values with them.

Says Ryan: "It's the belief that everyone is created in love, and everyone has a goal in life."

And who knows, maybe someday they'll even see the value in all those stupid rules.

For more information about the Boys Hope Girls Hope program, including volunteer opportunities, visit