Being the Change: Shaping the Lives of Young Men

High Point University student Ben Oxenberg

High Point University student Ben OxenbergEvery year, HPU students spend more than 30,000 hours volunteering in the community. Below, junior Lillian Bijl introduces you to one individual who has invested his time in a new program to help students at a local elementary school.

A tall guy walks into my sorority’s chapter meeting one night and asks for a dollar from each Greek-affiliated woman to help fund a program he has set-up at a local elementary school. Are you curious? I was.

Meet Ben Oxenberg, a High Point University junior who might seem like a regular college guy, but who’s got a heart for children and a dedication to improving their young lives. I sat down with him to learn more about what he’s doing in our community and how he’s working to make it better.  

A youth basketball coach, an active volunteer with Big Brothers/Big Sisters and an elementary education major, Ben not only wants to be involved – he wants to be the change. Recognizing the correlation between a lack of positive male role models and destructive behavior in elementary-age boys, Ben founded “Big Man on Campus” at Johnson Street Global Studies in High Point, a male mentoring program dedicated to providing boys in fifth through eighth grade with a positive male role model and the opportunity to hold themselves to a higher standard.

“I want [the boys] to know that good things come to good people,” Ben says to me, making sure to highlight that the program is based on an incentive system rather than a punishment model.

The incentives come in the form of group bowling or laser tag adventures as rewards for completing tasks, like bringing one’s report card to the meeting or making sure to get a permission slip signed. The boys meet as a group with Ben every two weeks, and on an individual level with him two or three times a week. He is currently the only mentor in the program.

The program came to Johnson Street through the support of Mr. Slade, the intern principal at the school, who expressed a need for a mentoring program to Ben’s service learning professor, Dr. Sarah Vess. The Service Learning Program introduces students to service in hopes that they will start their own initiatives, which Ben certainly did.

Mr. Slade acts as liaison between Ben and the faculty, and Ben admits that the teachers at the school have been much more supportive than he expected. “If a kid gets in trouble, they’ll call me and ask me to talk to him. There’s a lot of information exchange and that’s good.”

As for the future of Big Man on Campus? “I’d really like to see the program expand throughout the Guilford County School District,” says Ben. The program is already growing, with 40 boys currently enrolled and two or three being added every week. Eventually, Ben would like to have more male mentors in the program, but emphasizes that the process would be very selective to make sure those involved were positive and responsible role models.

At the end of our talk, I asked Ben that if he could have dinner with anybody, dead or alive, who would that person be? He was quiet for a moment, and then told me it would be Jackie Robinson, the American baseball player who became the first black Major League Baseball player. When I asked him why, he replied that Robinson had once said, “A life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives.” The words seemed perfectly appropriate, and I have a feeling Jackie Robinson would have been proud to see his words find their living meaning in the impact Ben is making on others.

-Lillian Bijl

Lillian is an international relations major with minors in communication and Spanish. She is finding her voice at HPU by documenting the accomplishments of her peers. When she graduates, Lillian hopes to pursue a master’s degree in global health communication and work abroad.

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