High expectations. Discipline. Unconditional love. These are the values instilled in DeVante Blanks by his mother and family growing up near the temptation-filled neighborhoods of Chicago’s west side.
They are the same ideals he models daily, and often very late into the night, in his work as a crisis coordinator for Macht Village Programs of Green Bay.
“I am who I am because of the way I was raised,” says the former Phoenix men’s basketball player who graduated from UW-Green Bay in 2003 with degrees in English and Human Development. “I believe these same values are the key to providing the safety net to the kids I work with so that they can become successful. They know I am there for them, providing help and second chances. That’s what I care about. This is what I love, helping these kids.”
Blanks has worked for the program for nearly a decade, assisting children and young adults with severe emotional and behavioral issues who have not responded to other treatment. In some cases, this program is a last resort for easing the hopelessness felt by children, teens and their families, and integrating students back into family, school and community.
“We deal with the kids that no one else wants to deal with anymore,” says owner Mary Macht. “And we take them with the belief that kids don’t want to misbehave…they simply lack the social skills to choose responsibly. They often act aggressively as a defense mechanism. Our philosophy is that children are survivors, not manipulators.”
Macht Village works because of its staff, she says, and DeVante is one of the best.
“DeVante has an incredible rapport with these kids — every single one of them lights up when ‘Mr. Blanks’ is around — and they don’t want to disappoint him. They trust him, and he is able to redirect their anger and frustration into a manageable place.”
Blanks’ days aren’t without its challenges. As emotionally taxing as it can be, it hasn’t dampened his commitment to living each day with optimism, and his belief in what “his kids” can accomplish. He is excited to share his life lessons with them.
“Everyday I think about how blessed I was to grow up in the home I did, to have the family support that I had. And that extends to UW-Green Bay. There was never a time when I didn’t feel welcomed by the University, my teammates, my coaches… “
“UWGB taught me a lot. About family, patience, winning and losing, struggles. You do it all with the teammates you love and the coaches you respect.”
Blanks credits his former Phoenix head coach, Mike Heideman, for creating an environment where the most important things came first.
“He would call me in, and I would think, ‘Oh-oh, we’re going to talk about the mistakes I made in last week’s game. Instead, we would talk about my goals and priorities. We talked about the importance of family and my education. He helped me become a man.”
It was one of DeVante’s teammates who made the recommendation that opened the door to his future profession.
“Aaron Jessup told me about ‘Doc Macht’ and said I should meet her. So we set it up and I thought we were just having a casual lunch, getting to know one another. I had told her that I always felt drawn toward working with kids. My mom was a pediatric nurse and she would take me to work and I saw this enormous love and care she provided for these kids — a love that went beyond her job.
“But I shared with Mary that I didn’t think I was ready to be done with basketball, and that my goal was to first play overseas. When we were through, she began talking to me about my starting date and my hours! She said, ‘I want you to pursue your dreams, but in the meantime, come and work for me.’ When I had an offer to play professionally, she encouraged me, and said the job would be waiting for me. That’s the kind of person she is.
“That’s the kind of response that I try to model for the kids… I want to give them someone they can rely on. I want to be their security blanket, their safety net. I want to help them through a crisis. I want to get them to a point of realizing they have it in them to make sound decisions. And I also want them to know if they screw up, I will help them with a fresh start.”
Just like his mom did for him, Blanks also demands respect, and makes them accountable for their action.
“I didn’t like it one bit, but when the streetlights would come on, I would have to be home, and there was no changing my mother’s mind. I know this, mother knows best, and she’s extremely proud of me now. Just like I am proud of these kids.”
Blanks did have his opportunity to play overseas —in China and Macedonia — before realizing that his dream job was waiting for him back in Green Bay.
“I come to work each day just as excited as that first day. I love it here. I love the kids, I love the staff. I love Doc Macht.”
He also loves the outcomes.
“The greatest thing is to see these kids succeed. Some of them have such monumental struggles, and now they are working, back in school or having families of their own. What a blessing to be a part of that.”