Many high school students face burdens so heavy they would make a grown adult falter. And yet they march on through school, hoping to make it, silently screaming for help. Many days, their greatest need is for a mature adult to stop, have an honest conversation, and show compassion. This is the need that Tolando Cleveland faithfully strives to address every day – both through his job at Trinity Christian Academy, and in his ministry work with Youth For Christ and Juvenile Justice Ministry.
Tolando is from Kentucky and served for 20 years in the military. At the conclusion of his military career, he came to TBC looking for a Christian education that would help him become more effective in his ministry: making a difference in the lives of young people. “I was in my late 30’s — I had all the secular knowledge and experience the world could offer. What I really wanted at that point was to learn my craft.” He graduated from the Assistant Pastor program at TBC in 2018, and has remained involved in his church (Elevate Life Church) as well as in various other ministries and organizations that provide counseling.
As part of his training at TBC, Tolando got involved in mentoring at Trinity Christian Academy with Dr. James Buckner. His passion for helping young people is a gift and it did not go unnoticed. It wasn’t long before he was asked to come on staff as a gym teacher. Even though he had not anticipated being a gym teacher, Tolando accepted, seeing it as an opportunity to spend time with the kids that need it most, offering a chance to voice discouragement or frustration before they get themselves in trouble for acting out.
Aside from his hours in the gym, he has been working closely with upper division staff to develop an alternative to in-school suspension. The model they have adopted and named “In-School Solutions” is a purposeful method of helping students who are struggling in school. The program takes advantage of valuable time with students, giving them a chance to talk through their circumstances and help pinpoint solutions tailored to their needs. Tolando sees so much potential in the young individuals who find themselves in the In School Solutions program. “I want to offer [to young people] a different perspective in life. I want them to know that where they came from does not have to define them.”
Tolando’s heart is all in. He volunteers wherever he can impact teens and young adults who need guidance. Whether it is in between classes, during gym, at church, or in the local area detention centers, he has the ability to connect and the passion to invest in their lives.
While in college, Tolando purposefully developed relationships with his professors; he especially found a lot of common ground with Dr. Christmas and Dr. Buckner. Both professors helped him acquire valuable tools that enable him to be even more effective as he continues to pour into his calling. “You know, PE might not be ‘my thing’, but I get to do my thing through it! I believe that God placed me here in preparation for what’s to come.”