The power of a father: Dexter Hebert shapes lives

Dexter Herbert

by Todd Cohen

photographs by Nick Pironio

Dexter Hebert has devoted his adult life to giving kids who need it the kind of loving support he got from his own father. “Not having a father in the home is a huge challenge facing our young people today,” says Hebert, 38, who oversees Southeast Raleigh for the Alexander Family YMCA. Until recently, Hebert shaped and directed the Y’s Camp High Hopes, a summer camp on the campus of St. Augustine’s University for underprivileged children who live downtown and in Southeast Raleigh.

“When kids come back to me and say, ‘Mr. Dexter, the things you said to me and used to talk to me about really made a difference in my life, and you helped me become this person I am,’” he says,  “that lets me know what I’m doing is really helping to transform and shape people’s lives.”

Hebert, who was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas, says he owes a lot to his own father, John Hebert, who was homebound with a fork-lift injury for years until he died at age 52. Dexter Hebert was 17. “For me, it was a blessing in disguise for him to be there,” Hebert says. “I don’t think he knew how much of an impact that would have on me in my life.”

Today, Hebert – a two-time all-state running back who played football at the University of Arkansas and graduated from Texas’ Stephen F. Austin State University – and his wife Tamara, who works for John Deere, live in Raleigh with two sons, both students at Timber Drive Elementary School. Their daughter is a student at Houston Community College.

Dexter Herbert

I first started working with kids before my senior year. Me and my buddy had a house together in Texas. We had kids in the neighborhood and a lot of single mothers. When kids would get out of school, we’d take six boys, who would come by the house to play video games. They would have to do their homework first. We’d give a snack and then they’d get to play our video games.

My first job in Raleigh was at the YMCA’s program center in Apex. They were looking for a director. It had a youth initiative for middle-school boys and girls, with a basketball league after-school program for 140 boys and girls, and a summer camp for 80 kids. Then I did community outreach for the Central Y. We were serving kids in downtown and Southeast Raleigh, 300 to 400 kids in summer camp, and wildlife programs Tuesday and Thursday nights. We’d pick up kids from home. And we had tutorial programs.

Before we were at St. Aug’s, Camp High Hopes didn’t have a home. We bounced all over the place. At one point, the camp was serving about 500 kids from 26 different neighborhoods. Then we brokered the relationship with St. Aug’s. The program costs kids $5 a week, but the true cost is $142 a week. We raise $285,000 to support the program. We provide transportation, meals, free swim lessons. St. Aug’s gives the space for free. They’re an awesome partner.  And we have a tutorial center on campus in a house we remodeled, the St. Augustine’s YMCA Learning Center. It’s all year long. It’s for about 30 kids from Carnage, Ligon and Daniels middle schools.

The biggest challenge facing kids today is fatherless homes. I’m balanced and the way I am because I had my father in my home.

If I could fix any problem, it would be getting adults to show love to kids. People don’t love each other enough any more. We don’t give that gift of love enough to people not from our own family.

What I learned from my parents: With my dad, it was giving. He would deliver groceries for Catholic Charities. He just had a big heart. My dad was a Little League coach in football. He would go and raise money to get jerseys. He would go to grocery stores and get food and donate it to concessions. We didn’t have a lot of money, but he just knew how to build those types of relationships. My mom worked in a cafeteria in the high school for almost 30 years. From my mom, I learned hard work.

My hero is my father. My daddy always kept me around positive males. Having positive males spend time and reinforce the same things your parents are saying to you was tremendous to me.

In Raleigh, I admire mozzeta Johnson, CEO of the garner road community center, and kendall harris, association community outreach director in the main office at the Y. As minority directors working in our association, they paved the way and opened the door for people like me to come through. And Helen Rentz. She worked in our leadership development department. She is one of the first folks that interviewed me and saw something in me. She just has a heart for connecting people, and she connects people to the right folks, and she’s so genuine.

Raleigh is a great place. Not too fast, not too slow. A great place to raise a family. In my free time, if I’m not taking my kids to play baseball with them, I’m out riding four-wheelers with my friends and hanging out. I love to ride four-wheelers. I also freestyle rap. My favorite movie is John Q. It was about a father who did whatever he had to do to make sure his son lived. Right now I’m reading Let Your Life Speak, by Parker J. Palmer. It’s about how we should live, our vocation, listening to your voice, living out your gifts and your passions every day.

To me, philanthropy means to love others and care about others. If you can give away the gift of love, everything else falls into place.