DURHAM, North Carolina (WTVD) --One Durham teacher is making a difference for young men in her classroom through a program called Men of Honor. She is challenging members to push themselves beyond expectations and to achieve their goals.
NaShonda Cooke is one of five siblings. Her inspiration for the club draws on the story of how two of her brothers' paths veered in distinctly different directions.
The decisions those brothers made would forever mark each of their lives. One brother became a member of the U.S Air Force. The other, a convicted felon, left school without a diploma and was once listed as one state's most wanted criminals.
Both men grew up in a single family home. Cooke, a teacher at Eno Valley Elementary School, uses her brothers' stories as a cautionary tale in the Men of Honor program.
She's dedicated herself to the success of her students, serving for the past seven years as the driving force behind the program. One of those students, Rodney Williams, has won the school Spelling Bee twice and already knows what he wants to be when he grows up.
"When I grow up, I want to be an engineer, and I want to help people who are in need," Rodney said with pride.
His back-up plan is nothing short of ambitious. If he can't be an engineer, he will become a lawyer.
Cooke says that her purpose is to make sure the boys know how their choices can shape their lives.
Men of Honor unites the members of the program with successful men in the community, like UNC students and professionals working in a variety of fields across the Triangle.
Cooke said some of the club's former members are now in middle school and high school. Of the former Men of Honor members, some are captains of their school's sports teams and others have made the the honor roll.
"I expect a lot from these boys, and they reach expectations and surpass them," Cooke explained.
And as for Cooke's brothers, she says they're both still around, but living very different lives from one another because of their choices.
"One is struggling very hard because of some of the decisions he made early on, around the same age as some of these boys."