‘Doing the fishing for the rescuing’
STEUBENVLLE — How do you tie a tie?
What do you do when a fuse blows?
Can you change a tire?
Have you learned yet how to shave?
Steve Forte is a mentor when it comes to teaching middle school-age boys simple life skills such as these on Wednesday afternoons at the Sycamore Youth Center.
The facility at 301 N. Fourth St., Steubenville, is where that happens, along with as many as 40-some other free classes throughout the week that overall involve as many as 250 youth, all them learning new things.
The setting for Forte’s informal instruction is in a classroom, and it’s his second year for it at the invitation of Pastor Bobbyjon Bauman, the center’s director/founder.
The class comes under the heading of Legacy Project Boys Club offering home, auto repair and life skills, but it’s actually borne out of a bigger mission Forte is involved in called Fishers Council.
The Legacy Project is basically designed for boys without dads in the home, who have not learned some simple skills they might have otherwise.
“No one taught you. The philosophy behind it is you have no legacy, nothing handed down to you, and you might feel embarrassed, say, that you don’t know how to jump a car,” Forte said.
Learning to use small hand tools can be another hands-on lesson, according to Forte, along with this one in the works — devising an escape plan in the event of a fire at home.
“To explain the class I explain some of the components of the organization,” he said of Fishers Council.
“Discipline is needed. Behavior is needed. You have to police yourself instead of me policing you or telling you what to do, but it’s not the same because in my organization boys are working for themselves, so the class is a little different,” he said.
Forte explained some of his background and how Fishers Council got its start.
“I grew up a son of Minister Lois Forte, a name many know here. She was a minister. I was raised by her,” he explained. “She ministered at Zion Temple, now Greater Zion Temple where Bishop Roy C. Dawkins has been its longtime leader.
“My mother was a part of the committee that brought him to Steubenville,” Forte said.
It was an upbringing where they were separated from the world, he explained. “Holy simply means separated. If you’re not holy, you’re like every one else. She was separated, and we were separated from the world. We didn’t celebrate Halloween or many aspects of Christmas, couldn’t speak certain ways, couldn’t watch television like others watch television, because that’s the way she was, that’s the way we were.
“She raised us. She gave us a home, I explain this to many people, not physically, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually. A default, this is where you belong,” he said.
“These days some kids don’t have a home to come back to, no orientation, so we expect something out of youth that they have no reference for many times,” Forte said.
Part of his youth was spent in Tampa, Fla., with his father.
“My dad is a bishop. He ran a number of churches in Tampa, so I grew up part of my youth there, and it had just a huge impact on who I am. I came back here to graduate high school,” explained Forte, who lives in Wintersville and works at TIMET.
He created Fishers Council around 2012-13, the story of which is a unique one, he said, “because you have to subscribe to faith to really understand it.”
Forte was living in Seattle. “I was a union steward and got laid off, and I did the impossible. I returned to the area in 2012 with a call,” he explained.
“I moved across the country easier than you can move across the hallway. It just happened in a very strange way. I found myself in Robinson (Township, Pa.) with the intentions of becoming a chaplain.”
As part of that process, Forte sought the endorsement of a pastor, which led to a Steubenville visit to the church he had grown up in, Zion Temple. He met with Dawkins.
“So I came down from Robinson and you have to understand, I hadn’t seen Steubenville or the area in 17 years,” Forte said. “I just wasn’t prepared for what I saw. You have to understand I am coming from the Emerald City. I was a 4-minute bicycle ride to the ocean from my downtown apartment. Museums and cafes and all the pretty people. So I am coming from that. It was in the middle of the day and not a person anywhere. It was a fairly sunny day. It felt like the end of the world. It felt like some kind of apocalypse. I’m being honest. There were no trees. The first thing I noticed from when I remember growing up. “The buildings were gone.
“I pulled over on Fifth Street. I just couldn’t believe it. I panicked. I left my life. What did I do? That type of thing. In that moment, God spoke,” he said. “Two times that’s happened to me, and this was one time.
“The voice, if you can call it that, said ‘walk,’ and I don’t know how to describe that. It’s not an auditory thing but it’s in your head, I think.
“I can’t describe it but you feel it as well as hear it in your head. I was on my way to see that pastor, I got back in my car and I was shaken up. I called my brother. He lived in Martins Ferry. I said something happened to me. And before I could finish, he said, ‘I’ll walk with you,'” Forte recalled of the comment from his brother Tim.
Forte continued his walk to the church, despite feeling shaken and disoriented. “I went in there and pastor saw me and recognized me,” he said, taken aback when a man he didn’t know approached him. “He walked up to me and said, ‘I’ve never met you, but God told me I’m supposed to walk with you.'”
Forte pauses, shifts in his seat.
“Immediately I said, meet me Thursday at 6 p.m. and we’ll get started, and no matter how many times I recall this memory, I don’t know why I said that. I had no idea. All I knew is that something happened to me 20 minutes prior.
“Obedience is the only way to open the door to the supernatural so we’re going to walk, we don’t know where or for how long and don’t know what we’re doing. The only instruction was to walk. We’re going to walk. It was very important, consciously — we’re going to walk in obedience not knowing and so consciously doing that. I am now walking without understanding why,” he said.
“And the whole world happened. In my wildest dreams, stuff happened,” he said. “We took people to job fairs, we handed out job notices, we handed out food, we would sit on people’s porches with them because people saw us walking and wondered who are these people walking. People would see us all the time. We went to pastors of churches and said come walk with us. Well why, where are you walking to?'” the question was often asked.
Needs discovered became needs met.
An anonymous call, for instance, would lead to getting a drug addict into rehab in Kansas City. “We sent him packages every month,” Forte said.
It all constituted an active street ministry offering help where there was a need.
“We did that a couple years. We would buy appliances for people — that’s the whole thing we were being led, helping wherever we were led to do so. This is organic. There’s a supernatural thing happening. We were being led to people, and that’s how we met Bobbyjon.”
It was a connection that ultimately, for example, would result in Forte being at the Sycamore Youth Center to teach boys, most without a father figure present, how to do simple things such as tie a tie, shave, change a flat, fix a fuse, use a tape measure.
On the brink of 2014 beginning, in a time of prayer and observation, Forte said the word productivity came to mind.
“This odd word stuck in my head — productivity, not a word you hear in faith terms,” he said. “What it meant in hindsight was to take what we were doing and to be productive with it, to organize with it,” Forte said in explaining the formation of Fishers Council as a nonprofit — “as a legal entity” as the next move.
“We did so much making our name but there was no name for us. During those years we wandered the streets and the neighborhoods and the most dangerous parts of the city. We really started then.”
Fishers Council has a Facebook page that describes it as “a comprehensive community outreach system specifically designed to meet the needs of the city by partnering with its residents.” It serves “to promote the building of a better community through partnering with the people, its greatest asset.”
“Fishers Council deals with all of the aspects of the community that have to come together to impact any one life, and then that one life is only one element of the community, only one component of Steubenville, and that’s how you fix things — one person, one family at a time,” he said.
“Fishers Council — fishers of men, that’s a term from the Bible — so fishers is evangelism. It’s the council of evangelism, it’s all the pieces needed to come together, a council, but it could be anything. It could be as we learned in this community, it was the CAC, Urban Mission, Salvation Army, it was the churches, Coleman Services, it was all of these pieces or components and depending on the person, depends on the components.
“Those components are the council doing the fishing for the rescuing,” he said.
Fishers Council has five programs.
One is a mentor program for boys, explained Forte. “If you do community service and get a 2.5 and sign a behavioral contract, you tap into a rewards system. My philosophy is if you have good behavior and good grades and serve the community, you deserve everything your community can afford to give you,” he noted of what would translate into going to Steelers and Pirates games or outings such as fishing, swimming, bowling or the movies.
“But boys are only what they are influenced to be by the men in their environment, so we have a men’s program which started first and is called Ironmen,” he continued. “We have done a lot in the community with Ironmen. It comes from a scripture — ‘as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another’ — it’s men helping men in any conceivable way,” he said.
“Our highest success is partnering with the Salvation Army where our funds were coming through them and Ironmen would have monthly dinners,” he said, noting Ironmen would extend an invitation if they, for instance, came across someone struggling. “Invite him to dinner — no preaching or lecturing, it was literally what we called a right-hand fellowship — I offer myself to you not to tell you what to do or show you what to do, but to do it with you, and that support is what people need. So many of the people we were helping knew how to solve their problems the whole time, but what they needed was support –moral and spiritual,” Forte said.
The counterpart to the men’s program is called SisterServices, and the counterpart to the boys’ mentor program under SisterServices is called Little Sisters. “Those remain undone,” he said.
“SisterServices is a unique sisterhood designed by the Fishers Council to act as a women’s support group and character development program,” according to the Facebook page.
Overall, Fishers Council is an organization designed to treat the family as a whole, according to Forte. “That’s the mission and vision that God gave for this organization.”
“What we have done over these years is function at an extremely high, successful level at every component but never altogether,” he said. That includes yearly festivals that were held at Belleview Park with everything free for the community. The last one attracted close to 500 people, he said.
Forte looks to 2021 as a time for “revenue stream, I believe, corporate sponsorship, for us to function at the level that we function. That’s where we are now. I don’t want to say that we’re getting back on track — we were never off track, because the problem is the need is still out there.”
As for the Sycamore Youth Center class, Forte appreciates the opportunity to be a mentor to youth.
“It’s a privilege for someone to trust you, to let you in, to give you their confidence, and then to be able to plant the seeds. The end result is not for me,” he said.
“There’s a saying that we have through Ironmen, God is planting the seeds for trees, under the shade of which we may never sit. We toil in the field for harvest we may never see, so our work is not for us, but those who come after us.”