An interview with Morningside’s Interim LDP Director Mario Choice
We sat down with Morningside’s Interim LDP Director Mario Choice recently to learn more about his life before Hope Farm. For a little over two years, Mario has worked with our boys after school, led the CLPS program, and worked with families in every capacity when the schools were shut down. These two years have been the most challenging years we have faced as a country and as a ministry. Mario has been in the middle of this challenge leading in important ways. As a former Assistant Principal, Athletic Director, and Youth Pastor, God prepared Mario for his many roles at Hope Farm. According to Mario, “understanding how to develop children educationally and spiritually are two key components at Hope Farm.”
Despite the challenges that Hope Farm has faced in recent years, Mario always focuses on positive things:
“I have noticed so many positive changes in students at Hope Farm. I have seen one student who wouldn’t complete his schoolwork and teachers would call his mom weekly. He is now in high school and is consistently on the A/B honor roll. Another student needed a lot of work on himself socially. He would consistently get into misunderstandings with staff & peers. He is now a leader, and rarely engages in unnecessary conflict.
When the pandemic first took place, there were several challenges we faced in programming. One was helping students with anxiety about the whole situation; and due to that anxiety, it affected the students emotionally, which affected them academically. We had to help our students through their anxiety and help them through coursework at a level that wouldn’t trigger that anxiety. The students have adjusted with very few issues & I honestly believe they are more grateful at the chance to attend school.”
The one common denominator in all our boys’ lives is that none of them have a father who lives in the home. Hope Farm provides spiritual guidance, academic support, consistency, and accountability. As a father, husband, teacher, and mentor of students all his life, Mario has embraced his role as a “father figure” to our boys. Mario has also embraced Hope Farm’s theme, 2 Steps Forward, for this school year as it relates to fatherlessness:
“Growing up without a father figure has a profound effect on boys that lasts into manhood. Without having this influence in their lives, boys are at risk of growing into men who have problems with behavior, emotional stability, and relationships with both significant others and their own children. With that being said, most young men struggle with trust and authority figures. It takes weeks and sometimes months for young men to trust you because of the fear of abandonment or betrayal. We build that trust through consistently keeping our word and work through the fear they are dealing with. 2 Steps forward is derived from Philippians 3:13-14”
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
COVID-19 took a major toll on us mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It set us back, but we believe when you are “knocked back” one step, take 2 steps forward. Every time life pushes you backwards, take the intentional steps of moving forward! Our goal as a staff is to help our students understand that life happens and sometimes life isn’t “fair.” But we can make the best of every situation we face, and it is our responsibility to move forward. We are blessed to have Hope Farm alumni, Darian (graduate of Sam Houston State) & Shamar (sophomore at TCC) working with our guys. It is a plus that they were former Hope Farm students because they know the program and the expectations. They have a connection with the current students I will never have because they are Hope Farm alumni. They understand the concerns & frustrations our students face in the program. As a result, they can address these issues personally because it once affected them when they were in the program.
Mario has big ideas for the Morningside campus. This summer he completely changed his classroom painting it bright colors, putting in an old-school pin ball machine, accepting comfortable furniture donations, and his latest project is to raise money for a large fish tank that the boys can take care of each day. The college pendant collection hanging on his wall grows weekly – he features schools that staff and alumni have attended to inspire the boys. Mario wants to create a space for older boys that they are excited about and want to be a part of.
Mario talks about the new space and goals for the future of the LDP on the Morningside Campus:
“One of my favorite quotes is “when a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” With the technology and change in society, we had to change some things to keep our students interested and engaged. We felt changing the theme of our classrooms to a lively environment would be conducive to learning and engagement. The students have responded well, and we hope to keep them interested and engaged.
As the Interim LDP Director, I am grateful for the leadership before me and their diligent work. I stepped into a position where guidelines are in place because of their diligent hands. These guidelines will ensure the success of the Hope Farm students along with staff. I am continuing with these guidelines and have added additional ideas to enhance and grow the program. My goals are to continue to grow in areas of technology and other fields that interest our students.
Technology is huge and it is probably 75% of our daily living. We must understand the new technology and have programs accessible to our students concerning technology. Most importantly, we must make sure our students are receiving sound Biblical teaching & getting an understanding of that teaching, which we believe helps them grow in understanding the purpose God has for their life.”
“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the Future.” President John F. Kennedy.
Big things are happening on our Morningside Campus as well as our Como and Dallas campuses. If you haven’t been by lately, contact us for a campus tour to come out and meet our staff and boys!