PLANO A priceless moment between single-mother JoJuana Turner of The Colony and her son occurred recently when 15-year-old Joshua showed his mom how to fish, a skill he learned from PALs mentors at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.
“[He showed] me how put together a fishing rod the correct way, how to hold it. He taught me something. This was due to PALs,” Turner said, adding, “It is a precious memory. I am so proud of him.”
These types of stories make PALs founder Joe Perry smile as he prepares to retire at the end of August following nearly two decades as Prestonwood’s minister of missions, his last stop in a pastoral career spanning 33 years serving churches in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.
Perry, a former coach, plans to remain active, continuing to sponsor PALs at Prestonwood while exploring ways to partner with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to expand the program.
PALs (Providing Adult Leadership) started after men on a church dove hunting retreat expressed a desire to do something for boys without a father in the home.
Perry seized the opportunity and pitched the concept of PALs to the group.
“Throughout my life, God has put me in situations where I’ve been aware of the needs of inner-city boys in particular, but (also) boys in general who don’t have dads.”
—PALs founder Joe Perry
“Throughout my life, God has put me in situations where I’ve been aware of the needs of inner-city boys in particular, but (also) boys in general who don’t have dads,” Perry said.
These situations included coaching at Alexandra, Louisiana’s all-black Peabody High School in the 1970s where Perry noticed most players were from single-parent homes. “We didn’t even have enough dads for a booster club,” he recalled.
Later, as a Little League coach in Oklahoma City with two sons himself, Perry recruited boys with absentee fathers to play on his tournament teams, paying expenses with donations. His awareness increased of the great “void” faced by fatherless boys.
With PALs, Perry felt he was finally doing what God had called him to do about the issue.
Funded then as it is now by donations, PALs launched in 2001, providing outings at no cost for boys from single-parent homes along with volunteer mentors. The format evolved into hunting or fishing weekends.
“Hunting and fishing are what we do because many of my mentors are just good old boys,” Perry chuckled.
“Over 300 boys have done at least three trips per year,” Perry said. “We seldom encounter a boy who, once he goes on a trip, doesn’t want to repeat.”
Boys may start PALs at age 8 and participate through high school, provided they have begun PALs by age 14.
Mentors go through training, an intense personal purity analysis, and a background check, Perry said. Rules are strict. Adults and boys are never alone together, except when deer hunting, a trip reserved for boys 10 and older.
Being a mentor is “rewarding” but “tough” and “not glamorous,” Perry said.
PALs annual outings include a dove hunt near Wichita Falls, a deer hunting trip near Brownwood, a fishing trip to a ranch near Sherman and a trout fishing excursion and tour of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center at Athens. Sometimes hog hunts or summer sand bass or striper fishing trips are held.
Mentors and boys spend nights in tents or church family life centers. Trips involve up to 18 boys.
Each trip incorporates segments from the biblically based REAL curriculum Perry has developed, emphasizing the responsibilities of manhood. Topics include prioritizing a relationship with God, choosing a spouse, exercising leadership, avoiding peer pressure, preparing for a career, handling anger and being honest.
Rochelle Sladky, whose three sons participated in PALs, called Joe “great at fostering relationships and pointing them to the cross,” adding that her 29-year-old son always calls Perry when he comes to town.
PALs gave her sons “stability” and “examples of what it looks like to be a good husband [and] good father,” Sladky said.
JoJuana Turner laughed that while Joshua balked at messy tasks at home, he could gut a fish or deer with ease in PALs.
“He told me, ‘You just do what you have to do, Mom,’” Turner said, adding that Perry “has made a footprint on Joshua’s heart that will last a lifetime.”
Perry references the James Dobson claim that if good men would spend four to five hours with fatherless boys four to five times a year, the effect on their lives would be profound.
“We know this is true. We have seen it,” Perry said.
Of all the boys in PALs, he said he knows of only one who has had a minor scrape with the law. That boy straightened out, Perry said, adding that most “are active and faithful in churches. They are great men.”
Perry said he has nothing but admiration for single-parent moms of boys: “Most men couldn’t do the job a single mom does.” He intends to keep helping them through PALs.
For more information on starting a PALs program, contact Perry at email@example.com.