He described a rough childhood growing up in Pittsburgh, including one incident when he was 8 years old and found his dog shot dead. He told them about those experiences to show them they were capable of achieving their goals, he said.
"It's multi-faceted and you can't take a one-size-fits-all approach," Layton said. "The first thing you have to do is listen."
He called his work with the boys a "little piece of a contribution" but was beaming with pride at their accomplishments.
"Look at how the kids are going from D's and C's to B's and A's," he said. "That didn't take money; it took time and love and caring."
Layton left the boys with his rules for life, "Mr. Ron's Rules," he called them.
He told them to work harder and learn everything they could. He told them to dream big and do great things because God didn't make anyone to be average. He told them always to try to help others.
He was surprised when the group honored him by naming its highest award for him. He said he was proud when he presented it to two boys who made vast improvements both in school and out.
While the "den mothers," women who also work with the boys and help with tutoring, were slicing Layton's goodbye cake, he told the boys he had high expectations of them.
"When someone bestows an award upon you, it comes with some responsibility," he said. "Don't let me down."
Amarion told his great-grandmother, Margaret Henderson, he knew he would get the award because he had done so well in school. Henderson was sitting in on the meeting Monday night when Layton presented the Ronald M. Layton Excellence Through Education award to Amarion and Kijante Figures, 12. Both boys accepted with beaming smiles.
"I'm really proud of him," she said. "He's come a long way."
Kijante, a sixth-grader at Stonewall Jackson Middle School, said earning that award was a great feeling.
"I improved since fourth and fifth grades and this really helped me," Kijante said of the group. "It gave me more initiative to do better at school instead of playing around."
He said his grades have improved and he recently made the basketball team.
"I'm proud of him and so glad that he has positive male role models in his life," said Melanie Hairston, Kijante's mother. "It's humbling that someone of their status can take the time to come and spend time with these boys.
"It shows that regardless of where they've made it, that they don't forget where they came from and that they can share their experiences."
The group also takes the boys on trips, little excursions like fishing at Cato Park in Charleston and big ones like the trek to Washington, D.C., last August. The boys got a tour of the White House and a rare look inside U.S. Secret Service headquarters.
Group organizers said it was the first time any group had been permitted on such a tour, which included an up-close look at the presidential limousine. The trip was funded by donations from group organizers and community members.
Tom Sweeney, a Charleston lawyer who mentors with the group, said the mentors bought the children collared shirts and he loaned the boys his Brooks Brothers neckties. Each boy also got a lesson in tying a necktie.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.cr...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.