Steve Harvey Shares Grand Vision for Mentor Camp: 'I'm Going to Introduce Kids to Their Dreams' (Exclusive)

Steve Harvey chats with ET about the Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation, which hosts the Steve Harvey Mentoring Camp.

Father's Day is a special occasion on Steve and Majorie Harvey's Legacy Ranch. 

The holiday marks the first day of the Steve Harvey Mentoring Program's Mentoring Camps, a day of excitement and anticipation all around. The 66-year-old invited ET to visit the ranch as they kick off a new year, explaining how the program came to be and how it's still going strong 13 years later.

Born through the Steve and Majorie Harvey Foundation, the Steve Harvey Mentoring Program (SHMP) welcomes young men from around the country to discuss and teach the principles of manhood. The program aims to help young men "realize their potential and envision and prepare for a robust and productive future." SHMP aims to break the "misguided traits of manhood" and introduce role models who provide positive examples for their mentees.

Last year, the program's mentoring camp made its return after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Steve tells ET's Kevin Fraizer that the program aims to teach the attendees "the real principles of manhood and [to] dream big."

"A lot of young men, because they're from single-parent homes and they have absent fathers in their lives, they don't have a real understanding of what manhood is, you know? And manhood is not what's being portrayed all the time in TV and in music and in the culture," he explains. "We teach them that real men go to work. Real men respect women. Real men honor God. Real men obey the law. Real men go to work. Real men take care of their children. Real men are responsible. Real men show up. Real men do what they say they're going to do. That's what manhood is. I get them to understand that. And I have a Dreamville course out here that teaches them how to dream and how to make their dreams come true because I'm really good at that."

The actor, producer and TV host takes ET through his agenda as the young men roll into the camp, explaining that he makes it a point to welcome "each busload" and give a speech to amp up the attendees. 

"I let them know, you gonna have the time of your life. You're going to really enjoy yourself," he shares. "You're going to learn some things and when you leave here, if you listen, you'll be a truly different person. I promise you that."

The Family Feud host adds that a key element of the mentoring camp is to teach the mentees about "discipline."

"We're going to have a set of team-producing skills that you're going to have to learn. You're going to have to learn that you are your brothers' keepers. You are responsible for this other brother over here," he explains. "Here's not just another creature you're seeing, that is your brother and you are responsible for him. A lot of these cats have never been taught that. They come from places where [are] enemies and things of that nature, and we sort of share with them a different view."

In the 13 years he's been running the program, Steve says he's only had one attended bail during the session. "And I'm talking thousands of kids, [only] one bail." 

He goes on to reveal that this year's campers will have the special treat of being directed by former campers, saying, "I've got the upper management that takes care of all the technical stuff, but for the first time -- because these guys are grown, they have full-time jobs and positions; they work, they're in the military now, they're engineers now -- they are the guides that are running the whole program."

When it comes to what makes the SHMP mentoring camps stand out, Steve attributes the camp's success to their focus beyond traditional education.

"I identify with something that the school system doesn't: I talk about your dreams," he says. "If the school system would have a dream building course [where] they sat these kids down twice a week to just talk to them about their dreams, you'd save a lot more kids. But schools don't ask kids what their dream is, they just tell them you got to do maths, gotta do this [and] do this if you want to graduate. Well, graduate for what? Let's find out what for."

He notes that breaking down what an attendee is interested in makes it easier to inspire them to learn. "The dream inspires you to get the education. We've got it backward in this country, we keep [putting] the education first," he tells ET. "Do you know the average person is not gonna go to college? But they turn out to be some really fine people, so why don't we just help them to become the best person they can be and then I can let that lead them wherever they want to be? That's why we have probably thirty different breakout groups here. We have people come down here to design sneakers for Nike. I got kids with shoes that Nike got on shelves because these kids know what they want to wear. I got agriculture up front. I got fishing, I got rock climbing, I got ziplining, we got football. I know how to entertain boys. I've been a boy my whole life."

The actor shares that he has big plans for the future of the camp, wanting to take it beyond its' already impressive means on the 1600-acre ranch Steve bought from a Chick-fil-A.

"My vision is to build all permanent housing structures. I want to mentor year-round, but I got to build a dormitory that sleeps 350 kids," he reveals, adding that he'd also like to open a performing arts center that seats 600 people theater-style with a stage where they could put on plays shows, and people can come in and make presentations for corporations. He also wants to open up a STEM center, an indoor basketball gym, open up an EAS gaming center because that’s huge with the kids.

And since Steve and Majorie pay for everything out of their own pockets, the comedian notes that he doesn't make enough to make his vision a reality yet.

But he will because, as he tells ET, it's his lot in life.

"That's my calling. All my life. I don't really have a choice. I mean, look, your career is what you paid for, your calling is what you're made for. I was made for this," he says, proudly. "I was made to come up the hard way. I was made to touch every economic step along the way so I could learn how to teach. It's my calling. I'm here to change young boys' lives. I'm not in the soul-saving business..."

Regardless of his mentees' backgrounds, Steve says he's determined to "reach" them and provide a guiding hand. "The frustrating part for me is trying to get corporate help because corporations I thought would give stuff to kids, I found out these corporations give for return on investment," he shares. "You'll help these mothers and these kids if you see through your analytics that they will end up using your products. Well, that don't make no sense to me. Seem to me like if you turn these young boys into great men, they'll have jobs, and they can all the products you want."  

Still, Steve is appreciative of those who have stepped up, because it’s for a greater cause. He says it’s fair to say that he's spent "tens of millions of dollars" on this place.

"I'm going to get it done regardless because one thing about my faith, man, God didn't bring me this far to leave me. He didn't have me buy this place to go fishing, no. I'm buying this place to mentor," the actor declares. "Now [whether] I have the buildings built or not, I'm going to bring these boys out here to mentor, and I'm going to let them fish, I'm going to let them zipline, I'm going to let them do archery, I'm going to let them learn to farm and I'm going to introduce them to their dreams."

"And the dream-building session is so important, man. [That's] where we teach kids how to accomplish their dreams and that's the word that I teach because, guess what, I know how it's done," he adds. "I come from nothing, I have no education. So we got to start meeting these kids where they are. Some of these kids are tough kids and if you give them some direction and toughness they can use it the right way."