The Service LanePosted by Paula Paine on November 19, 2013 in Alumni, Athletics, Community, "School of Education", "The College", "Your OU" From a young age, Steven Lane knew he wanted to help underprivileged children, but his grandmother told him that it wouldn’t be until he experienced some type of difficulty in his own life that he would be able to put himself in others’ shoes and help in a meaningful way.
That difficulty came in middle school when Lane suddenly found himself homeless – and fatherless – after the plant where his mom worked shut down and his stepdad left. “Things went downhill from there,” said Lane, “and me, my mom and my sister couldn’t get back on our feet.” For five and a half years, Lane scrounged for meals, hid out in rest areas, “lived” in parks, and bummed a night’s sleep on friends’ couches.
During that time, Lane had ample opportunity to become bitter, get in with the wrong crowd, turn to crime, and develop a sense of entitlement. But he did none of those things, due in large part to his grandmother and mother, who instilled in him a servant heart and abiding faith.
“Being homeless made me stronger,” said Lane. “Whenever I felt like I couldn’t get through things, I called my grandmother. She always pointed me to I Corinthians 10:13 to remind me that God wouldn’t allow any temptation or problem that He wouldn’t carry me through.”
A year after Lane graduated from high school, he got a job at a local fast food restaurant and eventually earned enough to rent an apartment for his family. Knowing he wanted to do more with his life, he enrolled at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, on a track and football scholarship. Unfortunately, the school’s environment was not conducive to achieving his goals, and he was soon back in Newport News, Virginia, working in a factory and in the fast food industry.
Four years later, Lane was given another life experience that he would draw on when helping kids one day – a blessing that would produce perseverance, hope and incredible opportunity.
During the holidays, an old high school football buddy was home from college and the two got together to catch up. His friend, Josh Hojje, said that his school, Ottawa University, was looking for a corner back and that the team had a real chance of winning a conference ring the next year. He encouraged Lane to look into the school.
A trip to Ottawa to visit with Coach Kent Kessinger proved promising, but Lane learned that his high school grades, which suffered when he was homeless, and his college credits were not sufficient to allow him to transfer. Coach K encouraged Lane to enroll in community college to remedy the problem and then reapply.
“I can say that God blessed me with an amazing path that led me to OU,” said Lane. “He used football to get me where I needed to be, but I knew it wasn’t my passion. I still wanted to help kids in some way and provide them with a father figure if they didn’t have one.
As a physical education major, he started volunteering with kids in the community through summer camp programs at the Ottawa Recreation Commission, such as Teachin’ Tots, Little Sluggers and Little Hoopsters. Assistant Professor of Education Annette Blecha was instrumental in helping Lane secure these and other opportunities. “She knew my background, knew I needed money and knew I could relate to kids because of what I had been through,” Lane said.
He soon became known in the community for his volunteerism and exceptional mentoring, so when a new organization, Communities In Schools (CIS), began operating at Ottawa High School, Lane was tapped to assist with a particularly troubled student, who responded to his help and significantly improved his behavior. In February of 2013, when CIS expanded to the middle school, Executive Director Becky Nevergold didn’t give a second thought to offering the job of site coordinator to Lane, who completed his bachelor’s degree in May.
“Steven leads with his heart, but he doesn’t stop there,” said Nevergold. “He follows with his intellect to provide what kids need. That is the perfect combination for someone who wants to help youth be all that they can be. His personality, his ability to relate, his desire to be of Christian service, and the tools he learned at Ottawa University all make him a remarkable young man and a remarkable youth advocate.”
Communities In Schools is a nationally accredited non-profit program currently operating in 27 states. As the number one dropout prevention program in the country, CIS is locally funded and operated within each school district. School site coordinators develop and implement school programming and advocate for students identified as “at risk” by teachers, counselors, parents, and community leaders. Assistance with clothes, food, dental and vision care, school supplies, mentoring, tutoring, and behavior support are some of the services the organization provides.
The role of site coordinator was a perfect match for Lane, as demonstrated by one of his first experiences on the job. “My first week, I was approached by a teacher about a student that had never been to a dentist before,” he said. “I met with the student, who was very reserved, kept his head down and rarely spoke. I went to a local dentist (William H. Burks Dentistry), and I told him about my student. He set him up for an appointment right away at no charge. I was able to get the student dental care, some clothing, new shoes, and oral health products. He has completely come out of his shell. He is engaging and socializing with many students. The teacher and the parents have both contacted me to tell how much it has helped him
“Basically, this is my dream job,” said Lane. “I’m getting paid to help children just like me and keep them from falling through the cracks. I was offered a job back in Virginia with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, but my work here isn’t done.” In fact, Lane is so committed to the community that he is moving his mom and 10-year-old sister to Ottawa in February, allowing him to mentor his own sister when she attends middle school.
Of the 2,367 students enrolled in the Ottawa schools, 1,944 participated in Ottawa’s CIS programming in 2012-13. Of those helped, 66% met their attendance improvement goals; 76% met their behavior improvement goals; 85% met their academic achievement improvement goals; 81% met their attitude and commitment to school improvement goals; and 83% met their suspension reduction goals.
Lane is the first to acknowledge that he couldn’t help the kids as he does if people in his life hadn’t also helped him. In addition to his mother and grandmother, he particularly credits Reverend James Nelson Cornish, who mentored him through the Boys and Girls Clubs as a junior and senior in high school. At OU, Lane said, “Cheryl Wieneke, Sandra Marlatte, Arabie Conner, and Annette Blecha all motivated me to be my best, and even when I wanted to give up, they encouraged me not to quit but to be the first in my family to graduate from college.”
He was. And now Lane has become a living example that with hope, help and hard work, you truly can live a life of significance – and pass it on.