Gatlin Dresidan, Boys & Girls Club manager at Maple Tree Elementary School honored as hometown hero

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Gatlin Dresidan runs the Boys & Girls Club at Maple Tree Elementary School.

When the pandemic hit, he fought for his program to provide a safe place for kids to do their virtual learning.

His efforts helped to keep the kids at his school on track, and it also earned him recognition from the state Assembly as a "Hometown Hero."

"Avante, what's going on?" Gatlin Dresidan asked a student as he walked into a classroom at Maple Tree.

Dresidan is always ready with a high-five or hello for the kids at the school.

"I missed you," he said to another child.

"My thing is, you know, I just want kids to have something consistent, someone consistent in their life," he said.

That means you'll also find him on the sidelines watching kids play basketball.

"I tell every child after I talk to them every day, now go be great," he said of his philosophy.

Greatness. That's what he wants for the more than 90 kids enrolled in the Boys & Girls Club at Maple Tree.

Every school day, from 2:30 until 6 p.m., kids get help with their homework and more.

"Every child needs love," Dresidan said. "It can be tough love, it can be regular love, but it's all about how you present it to them, right?"

Dresidan is a big guy, with a beard. He stands out in the elementary school -- in a good way.

"I think it's a great thing for them to see a man, not only a man, but a Black man," he said.  "Because this is something most kids aren't used to seeing. Because when you think teacher, you think female."

The employees on his team agree.

"He puts his all into our kids. He knows that they're going to succeed no matter what. He makes sure of that," said Marquis Cheeks.

Cheeks is the club administrator.

"I'm an auntie, I'm the lunch lady," she said with a laugh.

She watched Dresidan struggle when the pandemic put all their hard work in jeopardy.

"It's what's needed in the community. Put it that way. Our kids count on us to be here," she said. 

But when the pandemic started and classes went virtual, it was unclear if the community would have the resources provided at the Boys & Girls Club.

"They did not open us because they did not have the funding," Dresidan said.  "So it tore me up. I just reached out to everybody I could, like what can I do?"

What he had to do, was break it to the parents.

"I had to drive out here that Monday morning and I had to sit on the parking lot and I literally had to turn parents away. They were prepared to drop their kids off and did not have any child care planned for that day," he said.

And for a guy who tells his kids to be great, he did something pretty great himself.

"The way he fought for this program and to get it going is why the parents appreciate him, love him," Cheeks said.

"I was just kind of like, hey, look, listen, I don't know what we got to do to get them money, but my site needs to be open," Dresidan remembered.

He convinced Milwaukee Public Schools and the Boys & Girls Club to find the funds, and students came for virtual learning.

"They have their Chrome books. They have their chargers. They're ready -- no problems whatsoever," Cheeks said. "The peace of mind the parents and teachers got from us being here through virtual was everything that we needed."

Dresidan didn't want any child left behind on their education.

His efforts got noticed. He accepted the Hometown Hero award in front of the state Assembly in November. State Representative Lakeisha Myers nominated him for the award, which recognizes people who give back to their community. His husband, Gerald Hyler, was by his side.

"I didn't know that I actually had to go to the Capitol and speak in front of the Assembly," he said.

But he says his words came from the heart, which is also what he gives to the kids every day.

"I just have a love for kids, because I feel like they can be their absolute best and if I can help them be that, I think I've done my part. I've paid my tithe to the world," he said.

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