Tucson teens Tyler LeBon and Justin Alvarez arrived at legal adulthood ready for what’s next.
As sons raised by single parents, each credit their mothers, as well as LeBon’s grandmother and Alvarez’s aunt, for being their constant supporters.
These women pushed them to succeed, kept expectations high and made sure their teen years were spent doing sports, volunteering and studying.
LeBon and Alvarez, now both 18, were chosen earlier this year out of nearly 40 applicants to hold $15-per-hour summer internships at two different Boys & Girls Clubs here.
It’s the first time students in Tucson have had the chance to apply for this program, which the Bank of America has sponsored in larger cities around the country for 15 years, said Lacy Perry. Perry runs the program as part of her job as market manager for Bank of America in Tucson.
The focus is on helping low-income youths with leadership skills and, as part of that, the two Tucson teens recently finished a weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., with other student leaders from around the country.
Alvarez’s first stop on his trip east was Florida, where he attended a youth leadership summit for Native American teens for the fourth time.
In the next few weeks, both Tucsonans will begin working toward degrees.
LeBon will attend Arizona State University on a full scholarship. He plans to major in astronomy or psychology.
Alvarez plans to study engineering at Northern Arizona University after attending Pima Community College first.
Tyler’s mother, Tracy LeBon, and Justin’s mother, Gloria Gomez, both said they didn’t have the same opportunities that are now before their children, and they are thrilled to see their sons succeed.
The women worked long hours to provide for their children. And both returned to school themselves in recent years, with Gomez about to start working on her master’s’ degree in social work through Arizona State University.
The boys both had their challenges, but they said the lure of things that often derail young men — unhealthy peer groups, gangs, substance use, leaving school — didn’t take hold.
So, what was the key?
Growing up, Tyler LeBon attended Santa Rosa Recreation Center, where he realized more fully that there are good things to strive for.
Another thing he believes helped him tremendously is that his mother treated him with respect and that, in turn, has helped him respect others — and himself.
“She was never a my-way-or-the-highway parent,” he said. “Instead, she would just tell me to keep thinking of the long-term and where I want to live and where I want to work. She wanted what was best for me.”
LeBon had to overcome some hard obstacles when he was younger, including having a stutter and struggling to read. He was bullied.
Now, when he meets other kids who are struggling, he can relate well to them.
“I tell them, ‘It does get better but you have to work towards it and you have to want it, for yourself,’ ” he said.
His mother started him on the swim team when he was 5, and he says that “had a huge impact on my life.”
Tracy LeBon worked throughout her son’s childhood, first at Kmart and now, after she returned to school in 2015, at Pima County Superior Court doing accounting in the clerk’s office.
She says her mom watched Tyler while she went to school and sometimes a close friend watched him at night when she had to work.
“I am very proud of him,” Tracy LeBon said. “You always want it better than you had it, and I instilled in him the importance of education and getting good grades.”
Justin Alvarez says his earlier years were hard because he was extremely shy, but over time and through his experiences at the Boys & Girls Club called the Pascua Yaqui Clubhouse, he became more outgoing.
Alvarez won the city of Tucson’s Dorothy O’Finley Outstanding Teen Citizenship Award and was the Youth of the Year at the Pascua Yaqui Clubhouse for 2018 and 2019.
He tells his younger siblings, and the kids and teens at the Boys & Girls Club, to keep learning and stay away from drugs.
“From experience, I know what it will do and I tell them, ‘You don’t want to go that way,’ “ he said.
He said the employees at the club and his relationship with them were critical to his success. He plans to return to his community.
“When I succeed, I will give my time back to make sure that the youth — not just my tribal community but all tribal communities — will succeed,” Alvarez said. “I want them to know that they are valued. They are our future and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure they know that.”
Alvarez’s mother, Gomez, worked at the Pascua Yaqui Clubhouse when her son was younger, and she often had him in tow to do volunteer work.
She’d tried going back to school a few times when her children were young. Initially, it was too challenging, she said, but she eventually persevered and now holds a bachelor’s degree in social work and works for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.
All the while, she talked to Justin about how important it was to finish school.
“I didn’t have that growing up, someone telling me how important school was,” she said. “I tell him not to get stuck. Be out there, and ask questions.”