DELTA COUNTY, Mich. (WZMQ) – A youth services program in Delta County is providing safe mentorship opportunities for students.
Since September 2022, Youth Empowering Services has been connecting students with trusted adult mentors. The organization works with local schools to select students who could benefit from mentorship.
“We knew where the kids were five days a week, and we wanted to come to them instead of making them come to us,” said Patrick Bradway, co-founder and program director of Youth Empowering Services.
The program started with just four mentors and four students. Today, mentors work with 70 students from a variety of backgrounds at Lemmer Elementary, Escanaba Upper Elementary, the Escanaba Student Success Center, Cameron Elementary School, and Jones Elementary School.
Each week, students meet with their mentors to participate in activities centered around a monthly theme.
“Whatever the theme is for the month, it’s not as important as the conversation that the kids are having,” Bradway said. “Every one of these kids has a story, and we want to be able to listen.”
Mentor Josie Baxter says her goal each week is to develop strong connections with the kids.
“Some weeks we sit there and we talk about Minecraft games, and other weeks we’re talking about some really deep stuff,” she said. “I want them to know that they have somebody that they can talk to–somebody they can reach out to.”
Baxter says mentorship is a rewarding experience for herself as well.
“I can be having the worst day possible, and I come here and I get to see the kids,” she said. “When they walk in, they get so excited to see you, and it puts a smile on your face for the rest of the day. It’s really fulfilling.”
Bradway says there is increasing interest in the program. As it expands, more mentors are needed. Bradway says it is important to find the right people to volunteer.
“We are looking for someone who is imperfect, someone who has a history of things that they’ve been through that they can teach kids how to deal with difficult situations,” he said. “Consistency is the biggest thing–someone who is able to be here every week so these kids build that relationship with consistency. The hard part is the time and the investment that is required of you emotionally. They’ll tell you things that are tough, so we work with our mentors on how to process these things and give wisdom and advice on how to deal with those things.”
For anyone who does not have the time to mentor once a week during the school day, Youth Empowering Services has other ways to help. Fundraisers are planned throughout the year, including The Office Trivia Fundraiser at Wellspring Church on April 24.
“We in the U.P. work together to take care of our own very well,” said Tiffany Hewitt, Youth Empowering Services co-founder and executive director. The money that you’re giving or the help that you’re providing is helping kids right in our own community. The beautiful thing is sometimes it might be a friend’s child, sometimes it might be a stranger, and sometimes it might be your own.”
For information on becoming a mentor, visit yes906.org. Visit the Youth Empowering Services Facebook page to see more of what the organization does. Click here for details about The Office Trivia Fundraiser.