Building Character One Boy at a Time

Good news is a rare commodity on the evening news, but there's always a bit of it at the end of every week. The closing minutes of each of the Friday broadcasts of ABC, CBS and NBC highlight good news and the people who are making it.  The Culture and Media Institute (CMI) has taken to calling these the “Friday Night Heroes” features.

The focus on stories like this is important.  According to a survey conducted by CMI and published in a Special Report titled The Media Assault on American Values, 68 percent of Americans believe the media have a negative impact on moral values. Turning on the television any given night of the week shows why.  The effort by the networks to feature these Friday Night Heroes is a countermeasure in the nightly onslaught of attacks on traditional values, morality and character.

On the Friday, January 25 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, Doug Smith received the spotlight treatment.  His personal effort to change the trajectory of the lives of troubled boys by being a positive role model was highlighted by reporter Roger O'Neil.

O'NEIL: When storms threaten, sailors look for safe harbors. For teenagers swamped in a sea of bad behavior, the Safe Harbor Boys Home is shelter from life's storms. A successful businessman, Doug Smith, was charting a world cruise 24 years ago when he let two troubled teens crew on his boat. The change in them, and him, made Smith realize a positive role model, absent in his own childhood, is a strong anchor in choppy seas.

SMITH: You never have to teach a kid to lie. You've got to teach a kid to tell the truth.

O'NEIL: And it begins where each teen lives, on his own boat on the St. Johns River in Jacksonville.

O'Neil reported that Smith's program includes a “daily dose of Bible study, high school classes and vocational training” but that it is the “surrogate fathering” the boys receive that really makes a difference.  Smith uses volunteers to help these boys turn their lives around.  One of those volunteers told O'Neil what he saw happening with the boys and O'Neil followed that observation with a powerful statistic:

RANDY OLSEN: They change in attitude, they change in their integrity and truthfulness and in their trust.

O'NEIL: 500 teens from around the country have docked here. Safe Harbor claims 95 percent steer a straight course.

O'Neil also had two of the teens currently enrolled in the program comment on their experiences.

CODY:  You learn to let go of things that just aren't even worth fighting about.

CHRIS:  It helps a lot knowing that you have to face who you used to be and become a new person.

The Safe Harbor Boys Home appears to have become somewhat of a media darling.  According to their Web site,, the program has been featured in People, World Magazine, Christian Reader, the Wall Street Journal and on CBS This Morning, ABC World News Tonight, CNN's Parenting Today and CBN's The 700 Club. Such exposure is a good thing.  The national attention that can be brought to these programs and people by the networks may inspire others to duplicate the efforts and effect change in their own communities.

Imagine what might happen if such heroes were featured every night of the week, not just on Fridays.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.