Three years ago, Stephen G. Peters had a lot of hope and aspirations for sustaining his Gentlemen’s Club in Orangeburg and watching it grow throughout South Carolina.
His local clubs were in Clark and Howard middle schools. He had aspirations of creating a program at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.
“We are hustling to make sure there is funding for Orangeburg-Wilkinson,” Peters said during an etiquette dinner for club members in 2005. “We just received 501-C3 status, which will help provide scholarships for college. That was always our mission, to put them on the right track. We want to make sure there is a place for them after middle school.”
Today, Peters, a former principal and teacher, has seen his clubs grow by leaps and bounds. Club members are achieving success in and out of the classrooms.
The Gentlemen’s Club stretches from one end of the country to the other, and a Ladies Club has been developed for female students. Peters, whose wife Angela is chair of the chemistry department at Claflin University, even has a headquarters here in Orangeburg.
But, there are no more Gentlemen’s Clubs here because to funding issues. There are none in the state of South Carolina. Peters is working tirelessly to change that.
“We are thinking this is the year in South Carolina,” Peters said recently while 10 GC members were in Orangeburg for a Summer Institute.
“I gave two major presentations in South Carolina this year, and we had some prospects in the Charleston area. Hopefully, we can get things up and running again,” he said.
The GC Summer Institute consisted of seventh- and eighth-graders from Kansas and Detroit. The club members earned the trip to Orangeburg for the institute because they received high grades on their report cards and had no behavioral issues and a 100 percent attendance.
“These students earned the right to take this trip this summer,” Peters said. “They had great attendance, behavior, and their grades were most improved. It was life changing for them.”
The young men got a taste of the college experience at Claflin University, where they attended classes and learned about leadership, science and math. Frank Tourville played host to the club members for dinner at Tourville Lodge, where male community leaders attended and offered advice.
“In life, everything will not be smooth, but remember that if you stumble, try to land on your back because if you can look up, you can get up,” Herman Belton said.
Belton led the club members in a golf lesson at the County Club of Orangeburg on the second day. The Peters’ were hosts to a pool party and cookout to end the institute.
“This was the boys’ first time out of their hometowns and their first airplane ride,” Peters said. “It was also their first time at a non-fast food restaurant and staying at a hotel. It was also their first introduction to a college campus.”
Peters’ Gentlemen’s Club is thriving in states across the country including Florida, Maryland, Virginia, Kansas, Washington D.C. and Ohio. Statistics are up across the board. Club members’ school attendance is up 44 percent, behavioral problems are down 42 percent and students’ academic achievement is showing gains as well, Peters said, with 29 percent of all participants passing all of their classes.
“I’m hearing from parents and teachers how the club members are being student leaders in a positive way,” he said. “I used to have teachers e-mailing me asking for help. Now students e-mail me: ‘I need you to help me.’”
The Gentlemen’s Club began in 1996 when Peters invested in 30 middle school males deemed as troublemakers. The students made their way from the principal’s office to the honor roll. Today, approximately 1,500 male students are active members of the Gentlemen’s Club process. Peters uses a 40-unit curriculum which stretches from elementary to high school.
With a growing demand for the same type of program for young girls and an available resource in his wife, Angela, expanding the club to include a Ladies Club was the next logical option.
“We started getting a lot of requests for the same type of service for females,” Peters said. “With Angela on board, it was the perfect opportunity to focus on the young ladies.”
The focus of the Ladies Club, which has certified clubs in Kansas, Maryland and Florida, is to empower girls to discover and be proud of who they are and to gain self-confidence and knowledge to succeed in a male-dominated society. The Ladies Club incorporates a modified GC curriculum.
“The Ladies Club focuses on leadership, honesty and self-esteem,” Dr. Angela Peters said.
“It’s tailored toward the girls. We also factor in gender issues and talk about male-dominated careers and women working in those fields and what they had to do to get in those careers. We bring in career women and role models, and the girls aspire to be like them,” she said.
Community service is also a big curriculum component.
“We go into the nursing homes, feed families that are homeless, visit sick kids in the hospital, do work around the schools they attend. All the while we are driving home the importance of education,” Mrs. Peters said.
Peters earnestly says that he would never have thought in a million years the Gentlemen’s Club would grow in the way it has and change so many students’ lives. What began as somewhat of a one-man show has expanded to include nationwide coordinators and teams and the hiring of a national Gentlemen’s Club coordinator, a position held by North Carolina native Larry M. Harvey.
“I believe these clubs empower families,” Peters said. “Now we have younger brothers and sisters participating in the clubs, which is really neat. They see the change in their older brothers and sisters. They feel good about themselves and make better choices.”
The goal is to continue to expand the clubs’ outreach into as many states and schools to positively affect as many students as possible.
“We want to continue to expand,” Mrs. Peters said. “We are expanding strategically, and we want to make sure we make a difference in our schools. We also want to get the message out to teachers, schools and kids.”
“We’ve been blessed,” Peters added, “and when you are blessed, you must bless others. We never envisioned being where we are now.”
He added, “During the Summer Institute, one of the boys said, ‘I want to be just like you, Mr. Peters, when I grow up.’ I responded to his remark by telling him that he has many more opportunities than I had. We want to help them achieve their goals.”