CARES nonprofit galvanizes support for National Mentoring Month

One sure fire way to give young people a glimpse of their own possibilities and a path to achieve them is to mentor them. January is National Mentoring Month. Stephen Powell of the National CARES Mentoring Movement joins Correspondent Lyndsay Christian.

Christian: What is the overarching goal for National Mentoring Month and why is it important to engage communities?

Powell: So, National Mentoring Month is a month-long campaign really celebrating the importance that mentoring has in the lives of young people and adults. Essentially, there are three goals that we try to achieve during that month. One, is to celebrate the various types of mentoring, whether it be group mentoring, one-on-one mentoring, site-based mentoring. The second would be to recruit individuals to stand in for our young people at various programs. And then the third is to try to get more groups to come in to serve as mentors, whether it be corporations, faith communities, fraternities, sororities, so on and so forth.

Christian: And you’re doing that through National CARES Mentoring Movement, which was created because of a crisis, a need. There are 58 affiliates across the country. So how is CARES addressing this crisis?

Powell: So the National CARES Mentoring Movement was founded by Susan L. Taylor, who is the former editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine. She saw a crisis when she was at Essence Magazine right after Hurricane Katrina, and the devastation that was created by poverty, so we’ll name poverty as a crisis, but then also, how many folks were not able to be displaced to safe spaces because of that. So we are the nation’s foremost leader in the recruitment and engagement of African-American mentors. Essentially, what our 58 affiliates do around the country, we recruit, train and deploy mentors to existing mentoring organizations. And we’re also building our own holistic wellness protocol to serve those mentors and the children in the communities that they serve.

Christian: Tell me about The Rising. That’s one of the CARES programs.

Powell: So The Rising is also called “Elevating Education Expectations and Self-esteem”. It is our whole school transformation effort for group mentoring. We’ve piloted it in three cities around the country. Essentially, there are two things that happen in a Rising program. One, we utilize whole school auditorium assemblies to utilize episodic mentors, mentors that may come in once a month to share experiences and workforce development strategies. And then we also have group mentoring that takes place in Wellness Mentoring Circles. So Wellness Mentoring Circles are gender-specific safe spaces that take place in classrooms during instructional time. There is a trained psychologist who facilities these Wellness Mentoring Circles and then we utilize a 32-week curriculum, which is undergirded by our curriculum called “A New Way Forward: Healing What’s Hurting Black America”. That curriculum was created by a 60-member brain trust and it focuses on 10 pillars which we believe are important for the total well-being of the mentors before we place them with our young people. Things like stress, wellness, mentoring, financial education under prosperity and community building.

Christian: Talk to me a little bit about what’s going on in New Jersey, specifically in the Newark community. I know that there was an affiliate founded in 2009 because there’s a need here.

Powell: Locally we have an affiliate called Greater Newark CARES, and we have some of our members in the studio today. Essentially what we do locally is we’ve worked with faith institutions like Metropolitan Baptist. We’ve trained men from the Men’s Ministry to adopt local schools like the Eagle Academy to serve as mentors. We’ve also worked with groups like the North Jersey Chapter of Jack and Jill to train their members and their men’s auxiliary to work with youth in the area. We’re just continuing to build a capacity, but also partnering with entities like the Newark Alliance through support from The Newark Trust for Education to create a bridge with our organization and the corporate community. One of the challenges in many organizations around the country and locally is that sometimes you want to make sure you have a true sustainability plan to continue the work. So we don’t want to do any “drive by programming”. We want to make sure we have a true sustainability plan to continue the work.

Christian: What’s really impressive, or what I find so impressive about the organization, is that it’s galvanized celebrity support as ambassadors to help really encourage people in the community to mentor and reach out to children. Tell me about some of these famous ambassadors.

Powell: One of the beautiful things about National Mentoring Month is it gives us an opportunity to leverage celebrities, that one-time opportunity, there are many celebrities that support us longer term. Alicia Keys supported our South Florida affiliate recently during Art Basel in Miami. We have a gala at the end of this month, “For the Love Of Our Children Gala where Maxwell is serving as a celebrity ambassador. He’s also performing as well. Michael Eric Dyson has been another one. There’s many celebrities that have supported us, absolutely.

Christian: So in closing this is what I really want to know, we’ve talked about training mentors to help children, but how are children affected? How do their lives change as a result of a mentor, or mentorship?

Powell: Let’s talk about what’s happening in New Jersey. So even though black students and white students commit offenses at the same rate, if you look at the juvenile facilities in the state of New Jersey, two-thirds are filled with black children. And it’s not that you want any child to go into a juvenile facility, but we have to create opportunities for purpose and promise, as opposed to a ‘pain for profit’ protocol, and that’s the shift. So we want to make sure that regardless of what type of situations our young people are in, mentors can come in and stand in the gap and we consider them to be opportunity brokers. We don’t want to be a state that’s looked at as the leading provider of mass incarceration. We want it to be looked at as the state that’s the leading provider of opportunities for our young people.

Christian: It’s all about standing in the gap and reaching back to help children.

Powell: Absolutely.

Christian: Stephen, thanks so much for joining us.

Powell: Thank you so much for having me.