COVER PHOTO: Yolanda Torrence standing with a community partner by the name of Rodney
By Arielle Johnson
After meeting Yolanda Torrence, we realized Fairy Godmothers really do exist. And no…she does not wear a long, flowing, wispy gown and wave a wand around in her hand that drips sparkles. But if you verbalize to her what it is you want, and do so effectively, you may just get your wish after all.
When Yolanda Torrence was initially approached with the idea of coaching a group of black South Dallas boys in basketball, she was not too sure about whether or not she was up for the task. She was going to be responsible for a group of boys who had volatile tempers, used excessive profanity, and had problems with truancy. The idea of coaching them in basketball would offer them some much needed discipline and structure, but how long would it take for them to get there and how would she be able to take on this huge responsibility by herself? Ms. Torrence felt the only reason why these boys were exhibiting such aberrant behavior was because they needed to be taken out of their comfort zone and exposed to people and things outside of their community. But was she the right woman for the job?
Eventually, due to the persistence of a woman at the Martin Luther King Center in Dallas named Anita a.k.a. Bug, Ms. Torrence, a resident of Grand Prairie, eventually took a leap of faith, and made her way out to Dallas to meet the boys. In an instant, she knew she had to step in to make a difference in these boys lives before they became victims of the streets around them.
In 2014, Ms. Torrence took on the responsibility of coaching the boys at Zumwalt Middle School in the fundamentals of basketball under the name of “Off Da Glass Squad” – free throws, rebounding, blocking out, passing, shooting; all of the areas that lay the foundation for those interested in becoming competitive ball players. Practice is every Thursday after school, but not only does she coach, Ms. Torrence personally drives each boy to the doorstep of their home after each practice or game against another team.
When asked how she has been able to fund the needs of the boys of the “Off Da Glass Squad”, Ms. Torrence will tell you flat out, she uses her own money. Back in 2014, when she started working with the boys, many of them did not have cellphones. Yes…the luxury we often take for granted was too much of an expense for their families to afford, however, Ms. Torrence definitely needed a way to communicate with her boys. Without giving it a second thought, as if their lives as well as hers depended upon it, she went out and purchased pre-paid android phones for all of the boys. With a pre-paid android, even if the minutes run out, in a wifi wired area, the boys could still communicate with her via the internet. When she handed them the phones she said, “If ANYTHING happens, call me, or reach out to me via the internet with your phone.” Those phones immediately boosted their self-esteem by making them a part of a community they had been living outside of.
Before taking the plunge to help the boys, Ms. Torrence’s male and female friends constantly told her to be very careful when she went out to South Dallas. In her mind, she was wondering how bad it could possibly be, but on her first planned outing with the boys, while her Chevrolet Suburban was parked, some heartless miscreant pulled the third seat out of the Suburban within a matter of minutes. Imagine the disappoint in the boys eyes knowing their first trip out of the ‘hood was cancelled due to some thievery, but Ms. Torrence recovered quickly saying to herself, she would replace the third seat as soon as she could, but right then and there, they had some place to go. The workaround – “I don’t have seats for everyone, so some of you will just have to sit on the floor.” And that’s what they did.
Soon the community became the eyes and ears she needed to constantly be in the know when it came to her boys, and whenever they were involved with any sort of mischief, she would get calls. “Ms. Yolanda, Darren is hanging out outside of my apartment complex on a school day. Shouldn’t he be in school?” or “Ms. Yolanda, I just saw Dondre over here by the Dart hub in Downtown Dallas and I know he ain’t got no bus ticket. Is everything okay?” Calls such as the ones listed here are the types of calls that help Ms. Torrence realize she is making a difference in the boys lives, and that she is not alone in wanting to see the boys succeed in life.
Ms. Torrence is a strong believer in consistency and visibility, therefore, she knew before she started working with the boys, there was no sense in pretending to be there, for them if she was not going to give it her all. She shows up for everything – baptisms, parent-teacher conferences, award ceremonies and good grades by rewarding the boys with $25 dollars. And although it is not a common occurrence, Ms. Torrence has even been there to bail her boys out of jail when they have gotten into trouble.
With all they receive from Ms. Torrence, all she asks for is a few things. “Give back to your community by volunteering. I have given to you, now I want you to give it back to someone that needs your help.” They give back by volunteering at local shelters feeding the homeless. Also, another way she has taught them as a way of giving back, has been the power of coupon clipping. They learn how to focus on saving coupons their mothers can use around the house, such has detergent, cleaning supplies and food coupons. The saving of coupons is tied in with another important life lesson which involves saving 50% of all monies they earn or receive.
In 2014, Ms. Torrence started out with 12 boys; today, she has 68. Many of these boys are currently seniors in high school and are facing the biggest fear of their lives – graduating and going to college without Ms. Torrence. She reassures them daily that their relationship with each other will not change and if they are in need of anything whatsoever, she is just a phone call away, like always.
To find out more about this group, please visit their Facebook page at “Off Da Glass Squad” and LIKE the page.