"A good man is good for all of man, and man, is a good man important."
So begins Man Up!, a gritty play that takes its audience on the dark and difficult journeys of young men who have been all but forgotten by society.
The production, which was shown to a handful of North Shore schools last week, is based on The Boys Club, an after-school program founded at East Vancouver's Templeton secondary by Walter Mustapich, vice-principal of Windsor secondary, and Jim Crescenzo, a drama teacher at Templeton.
It follows the story of four students, each from very different backgrounds, who make a series of bad choices as a result of not having a positive male role model.
Feeling hopeless, the boys turn to violence and drugs to solve their problems.
"Jim said 'We need to do something there because those kids are good kids, they're just on a bad path for a lot of reasons,'" says Mustapich.
Things begin to turn around when The Boys Club is formed. The aim of the club is to provide a meeting place for at-risk youths, where they can get a good meal, and hear from men who have overcome their own problems. Mentors include Canucks owner Franscesco Aquilini, who funded Man Up!, and Joe Calendino, a former Hells Angels' member who was addicted to crack-cocaine but eventually got clean.
"They started to learn that no matter what kind of adversity they were going through, somebody had gone through something as bad or worse and still became a successful human being," says Mustapich.
For some, the impact of the Boys' Club was remarkable.
Dzinh Nguyen, 20, who played himself in Man Up!, joined the club at age 15. He joined a gang at around the same time.
The son of Vietnamese immigrants, Nguyen said he barely spent time with his parents because they were working so hard to keep food on the table.
Seeing them struggle made him want to be able to take care of himself. His uncle's murder added to his despair.
"I didn't do it for status or power. That just came along with it," says Nguyen.
At first, he says, attending Boys Club meetings was all for show - a cover that allowed him to continue his criminal lifestyle without suspicion. But slowly, the support he received began to penetrate.
"They were giving me another path," he says. Even his gang leader noticed the change and eventually offered Dzinh an out.
"He said, 'You're not the same person anymore. Just walk away.'"
These days Dzinh is attending school part-time at BCIT and hopes to one day become a philanthropist. He has also been enjoying touring with the production.
"Some kids come up to me and share their life stories and ask for advice," he says. "Because they know my story, they listen."
Dzinh's hardships might seem extreme compared to what North Shore youths are exposed to, but another character, Chad, hits very close to home.
A young hockey player, Chad's father is a judge and mother a philanthropist. Although he gets into trouble constantly, his dad always bails him out, further infuriating him.
"They save the whales and the homeless, run charities and fundraisers but they don't give a shit about me," he says.
Mustapich is hoping those words will be a wake-up call for parents on the North Shore.
"It's not about how much money you have, it's about how much time you have to give these kids," he says.
Currently, Windsor and Carson Graham have adopted Boys Clubs, and Mustapich expects more schools will follow suit after seeing the play.
The feedback, he says, has been incredible.
"We've had teachers say this needs to be shown at every school in Canada."
Man Up! will likely return to the stage in the spring.
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