Against the Odds
Kimberley Carter Spivey
“That’s my dog!” This is the unforgettable phrase that you might hear from one of River Region’s finest, Charles Lee. This Montgomerian is trailblazing through the capital city to give back to and support community teens that are less fortunate and facing hardships of violence and poverty. Charles’s three word catchphrase has morphed into establishing a safe haven and a plethora of opportunities for adolescents to stay off the streets. His zest for helping youth reach their all-time potential is contagious, and he is relentlessly spreading his passion throughout the community. Charles’s spectacular efforts led him to be chosen as the 2017 recipient of the Alabama Young Professional’s Hero award and the 2017 Leadership Montgomery Unit award.
RSVP Montgomery was delighted to interview this local business owner and community activist as he shared his candid personal life story, a story which ultimately inspired him to guide and nurture the lives of our youth. Through his transparency, it was evident that this charismatic civic leader is making an impactful difference in the young lives of our future generation through innovative ways to matriculate teens into mainstream society. Not only did his inspiring efforts move us, we were intrigued to hear his story unfold, and how he transformed his life through unwavering determination.
At the tender age of 13, Charles lost all hope that he would live and make a positive contribution to society. Growing up in one of America’s most dangerous cities, he lived in a gang-riddled neighborhood in Chicago that did not afford him with many opportunities. Charles says, “I was born prematurely, a crack baby weighing 2lbs and 7oz, I spent the first two years of my life in the hospital battling with bronchitis and hepatitis C. I wasn’t expected to live past the age of five.” As a means of survival to care for himself and two younger sisters, Charles began engaging in unlawful acts that led to selling narcotics at age 11, a gunshot wound in the chest at age 13, and by 19 - incarceration. Charles expounds, “Both of my parents were drug addicts, and one day, my sisters came to me and said, “We’re hungry,” so I started hustling on the streets.”
Although Charles faced many dark, destructible moments in his life, he made the choice to alter his path and win - to win at life. As a pillar of the community, he chooses to pay it forward and award youngsters with opportunities that are limitless, opportunities that he desperately longed for as a child. Charles says, “When I was locked up, I asked God why my life was so messed up, why I was dealt this hand. I found out He had a purpose and mission for me, which was to go back and help the next generation. So when I got out of prison, I started doing just that.” Charles began volunteering to coach a boys’ basketball team for several years. He said, “While I was coaching basketball, I realized not only was I supposed to teach these boys how to win games, but I was supposed to teach them how to win at life too, just like I did.”
In 2012, Charles eagerly began implementing his vision and laying the foundation to help neighborhood children, and from there…That’s My Dog (the cart), located in the heart of downtown Montgomery on Dexter Avenue and Lawrence St. was established. Unyielding, he didn’t stop there! His tenacious heart tugged away at him and simultaneously, That’s My Child, a nonprofit teen-mentoring program, was also established. Originally operating from Chisholm Community Center, the program encompasses art, education, and entrepreneurship.
As the renowned program continued its rapid growth (functioning with over 100 kids), Charles acquired a larger campus facility by the end of 2017, located at 2414 Lower Wetumpka Road. In the midst of his achievements, Lee propelled forward launching two additional restaurants, That’s My Dog (storefront) located at 232 West Jeff Davis, and on the east side of Montgomery inside of Ric and Mo’s lies another-That’s My Dog, 3150 Watchman Drive. During the interview, he was asked the unescapable question, “How did you inaugurate the names for your establishments?” The owner replied, “For That’s My Dog, from the movie Friday staring Chris Tucker-he would always say, “That’s My Dog!” And for That’s My Child, if you see a kid who’s struggling, help them and treat them as if they were your own child. That child still needs love, support, and nurturing from somebody. And so, That’s My Child became the name of our youth organization.”
Yet again, this entrepreneur is making his mark within the capital city remaining steadfast with his vision and opening another newly owned restaurant, That’s My Dog Jr. at the S.P.O.T. - adjacent to That’s My Child. Charles Lee explains, “We created an assessment for our kids in the program to gauge what additional resources we could provide and they said…jobs. We want to work, but we’re having a hard time finding jobs.” Mr. Lee and his team are eagerly working to orient and prepare teens for job reediness within the public sector by allowing them to operate the restaurant. It will be the first ever to be solely run by teens! From the cooks to the General Manager, they will learn cutting edge work ethic, high performance professionalism, and superior customer service skills that will pave the way for job obtainment.
This exclusive eatery, which opens March 4, will include a unique menu of various food choices that are named after activities incorporated within That’s My Child-the mentoring program. If you’re looking for a mouthwatering savory meal, don’t hesitate to visit this one-of-a-kind restaurant located at 2414 Lower Wetumpka Rd., and devour its finger-licking juicy hamburgers and lip-smacking hot dogs. Experience an enjoyable and spectacular environment as dynamic teens display their entrepreneurial skills and professionalism, by serving Montgomery and the surrounding areas.