Mentoring Middle School Girls in our Community
Middle school can be a tough time for many individuals. Insecurities and fears arise and begin to loom large in the lives of young people as they begin the transition years between elementary school and high school. For at-risk youth, these struggles may be compounded. That’s one reason the St. Joseph YWCA offers its CHOICES program – because mentoring middle school girls can truly help them make the transition with less fear, fewer poor decisions and greater optimism.
The Power of Mentoring
Psychologists agree that the presence of a non-parental adult in the life of a young person can have a positive impact. Studies show that youth with a caring mentor in their life will be more likely to succeed in school, avoid negative peer pressure and experience higher self-esteem compared to peers without positive adult mentors. These outcomes take on even greater significance for kids who live in high-stress home environments. Children living in poverty, in rough neighborhoods or poor performing schools were shown to find improved abilities for organizing, problem-solving and social development related to their connection with an involved and supportive adult who was not their parent.
Mentoring is About Being Involved and Caring
So what would mentoring middle school girls require? Successful mentoring depends more upon being available and interested than in the exercise of any specialized skill set. Attributes of mentors that young people value are things like active listening, supportive words and actions and authentic interest. Those are gifts that just about anyone could give to a young girl at the crossroads.
Teachers, coaches and mentors can push youth gently to work towards higher standards while giving lots of affirmation and young people tend to respond well. Your belief in them is infectious and allows them permission to believe in themselves. Mentors can offer a perspective to kids who merely lack enough life experience to have a proper long-range view.
Mentoring Middle School Girls Through CHOICES
The YWCA CHOICES program focuses on the girls enrolled at all the St. Joseph public middle schools, and is a partnership with MWSU and the St. Joseph School District. Women student athletes from the MWSU campus meet on a regular basis with a small group of girls to talk about the difficulties the girls face and share ways to overcome them. A curriculum helps to raise issues, but the relational setting allows young girls to talk freely about fears and struggles. The student athletes can then offer healthy perspectives and encouraging advice. This year, the YWCA has received funding from St. Joseph East Rotary and the Spratt Charitable Trust to help with CHOICES.
Additional mentoring programs include the YWCA JUMP program (a program in partnership with Youth Alliance) to provide education and support for teen pregnancy and teens with children through mentors who are trained in their roles as supporters. Mentors are invited to engage in monthly training opportunities, and teens are provided with monthly group education meetings as well as home and school visits.
Our program for pregnant teenagers and teen mothers is named “JUMP” not only because it stands for Journey to Unite Mentors and Parents, but also because it enables the youth in our community to get a jump start toward adulthood by connecting them with positive mentors who can guide them through teen pregnancy and teen parenting.
Today, ask yourself if you have a few moments to change a young person’s life through mentoring – it’ll change your life in ways you never imagined.