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Mentors Matter: Making a Difference in the Lives of Youth

Posted by Admin On November - 10 - 2014
Youth Guidance brings support to minority students & families in Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods

CHICAGO, IL – Parents and schools in Chicago have an ally in their mission to keep children focused on the future.  Youth Guidance, a 90-year-old nonprofit that has provided services within Chicago Public Schools for decades, serves communities where the challenges of violence, unemployment, and academic failure for youth are most prevalent.  The agency’s programming touches more than 14,000 students city-wide.  In particular, Youth Guidance’s Becoming A Man (B.A.M) program utilizes highly-trained male mentors and counselors to reach young men of color, while the agency’s Working on Womanhood (W.O.W.) program serves young women.

Developed by Youth Guidance at Clemente High School in 2001, B.A.M. offers both social and emotional support for students.  In “B.A.M. circles” students bring forward their feelings and concerns and receive group encouragement in a safe, judgment-free space.  What started with only a handful of students in one school more than a decade ago has now expanded to serving 2,000 young men in more than 40 Chicago schools.

At Manley High School, B.A.M. Counselor Al Stinson uses an open and direct approach when working with his students.   Stinson, a west side native familiar with the urban realities his students face,  says that the issues he sees each day can range from disrespect for peers, school administrators and school property to fighting and violent outbursts to emotional distress.  In the 2013-14 academic year alone, six of his B.A.M. students were shot (all survived).

“It’s hard to become something you never see,” says Stinson.  “It’s about modeling.  A lot of my students walk into the program defining manhood as ‘money, cars and h–s’.  In the B.A.M. program, they learn about accountability, integrity, honesty, and self-discipline – and how that makes you a man.  We help them understand why those values matter, and the consequences in life when they don’t. ”

Students with demonstrated risk factors such as low school attendance, poor academic performance or tendencies towards disruptive or violent behavior are recommended for voluntary, weekly participation in the B.A.M. program.  In addition to counseling support, they also attend sporting events, field trips and college tours throughout the year.  Each outing offers a new, positive experience and helps students visualize a brighter future.

Youth Guidance also serves as a lifeline for many parents.  Cloronda Morgan, a Manley High School security guard and single mother of three, reached out to Stinson for help with her 16-year-old son who also attends the school.  “Freshman year his attitude shifted.  He was out of control,” she says.  “I came to work one morning in tears.  The disrespect was just too much.  I needed help. ”

Stinson intervened that day, resulting in an apology to mom and the family’s introduction to the B.A.M. program.  Two years later, Morgan states that her son is much more respectful and calm.  He is also an honor roll student with a 3.6 GPA.

“Parents are a serious part of this,” says Stinson.  “They have to reinforce at home what we are teaching these young men if it’s going to really work.”   Parents are routinely invited to special family engagement events and Youth Guidance orientations to learn strategies for helping their children succeed.  The agency is currently planning its 22nd Annual Parent Leadership Conference which will take place in January 2015.

To date, more than 75 Chicago area schools are receiving some form of Youth Guidance programming, which includes B.A.M., W.O.W, Community & After-School programs, Parent & Family Engagement, and Project Prepare, the agency’s workforce development program.  The agency also collaborates regularly with other community groups such as Blocks Together, the Chicago GEAR UP Alliance, and the Federation for Community Schools.   Student participants are roughly 65% African-American and 33% Hispanic – diversity also reflected in counseling and operational staff.

Youth Guidance programs ultimately enhance a school’s capacity to meet the needs of students, particularly when counselors or social workers are limited or nonexistent.   The impact is palpable when you speak with those directly touched by the agency’s outreach.  When asked what her alternatives would have been without the B.A.M. program, Morgan takes a long pause and states:  “I think that honestly, I would have lost my son.  He would have been a victim of these streets, selling drugs or in jail.  I’m a strong woman and good mother, but I’m not a man.  I don’t know how to be a man.  So I will always be grateful for what B.A.M. stepped in and did for us…for all the boys at Manley… especially my son.”

About Youth Guidance: Founded in 1924, Youth Guidance is a leader in outcomes-driven, school-based programs and capacity-building initiatives.  The Chicago-based, nonprofit currently services 14,000 underserved youth in more than 75 public and charter schools in Chicago through a portfolio of comprehensive programs.  The agency’s specific and strategically developed delivery areas are Community & After-School, Counseling & Prevention, and Youth Workforce Development. Ninety percent of students served are low income. More than 95% are African American and Hispanic/Latino. For more information or to donate, call 312-253-4900 or visit http://www.youth-guidance.org.

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