It’s Wednesday night on the campus of Perkins School for the Blind. In Brooks Cottage, a “putting green” has been set up in the dining room and a group of boys gather to try to knock a golf ball into a cup. It may look like typical teenage fun – but it’s actually a lesson in overcoming frustration.
This is the GQ Club – or, in more formal terms, the Gentlemen’s Quarterly Club, named after the iconic magazine credited with driving culture and fashion trends for men – and its mission is to give these boys the space and time to practice being true gentlemen.
“The club is about equipping them to handle all social situations,” said Jessica LeBel, coordinator for Brooks Cottage and club leader. “They want to become better gentlemen.”
The club was started by the boys themselves as a collaborative way to master some of the life skills they’ll need to be successful adults. Their goal is to be “dapper in dress, polite in conduct and truthful within honesty,” said LeBel.
The 11 residents of Brooks Cottage have met weekly since the beginning of the school year. At a typical meeting, the boys sit in a circle with staff members, discussing what it means to behave honorably or what constitutes good character. Every other week there’s a guest speaker who talks about one aspect of being a gentleman. Some nights there are role-playing exercises or games.
Before each meeting the students recite the club oath they wrote, promising to “be kind and caring, helpful and encouraging, to always do my very best to be the best person I can be.” Since being healthy is also important, they pledge to “wash my face and brush my teeth.”
On this evening, the teens discuss the benefits of being a gentleman. Jamie, 16, said, “You can make others feel more comfortable around you.” Michael, 19, added, “You get respect – treat people the way you want to be treated.”
Over the last semester, the teens practiced greeting people, introducing themselves and starting conversations. This has helped Austen, 17, who learned that a gentleman always waits for a pause in the conversation. “When a person has finished, I can start talking,” he said. They also hosted dances with girls from other cottages, to practice asking a lady to dance. They learned to put on suit jackets.
For the golf game, the teens took turns trying to putt a golf ball into cups LeBel had placed varying distances away. A staff member tapped the floor by each cup so the boys could hear its location. Teens on the sidelines called out encouragement.
“The boys are a great support to each other,” said LeBel. “It’s about being a good friend.”
Afterwards, they discussed what the experience taught them about handling frustration. Ben, 18, found that “talking things out solves your problems.” Added LeBel, “We may be successful the first time (we try something) and yet find it more difficult the next time.” The activity sparked discussion about the importance of having people support you, the benefits of teamwork and how to keep trying even if you fail.
At the end of the school year, to celebrate the boys’ progress, LeBel planned a dinner out at a restaurant. It gave the boys a chance to dress up, invite a guest and practice the skills they had spent the year learning.
But beneath the suave veneer of these aspiring gentlemen still beats the exuberant hearts of teenage boys. You hear it when Michael talks about what he learned as a member of the GQ Club.
“It shows me how to be classy, but still be the way I am,” he said. “It’s so cool!”