The future of social work is looking brighter, thanks to the students at Northern Kentucky University. This holiday season, Northern Kentucky area non-profits received thousands of dollars that were raised by students at NKU. From social work to marketing, students from across the campus ran various campaigns to support the local community, help those who are in need, and promote the non-profit organizations that serve the most disadvantaged people in the region.
The description of one such fundraiser read as follows: “Across the country, access to housing has become a major issue. Every day, families in Northern Kentucky are facing the potential of foreclosure, poverty, and homelessness. This not only impacts the adults who are struggling to make ends meet, but also the children whose learning and education is being affected by multiple moves and the absence of a stable home. These are complex problems that need all of us to work together before we can come to a solution.”
After addressing the problems, the students went on to do something about it: “We are a group of aspiring social workers hoping to come together to start to solve this problem in Northern Kentucky. Our class is associated with the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project, which seeks to educate students through giving by being grant makers in the classroom. Over the next few weeks, we will be working together to identify potential non-profits who also hold this issue central to their mission. We will then choose 1-2 of these organizations as our community partners.”
That group went on to raise $2000, donating half of those funds to Mentoring Plus in the form of the Mayerson Grant.
Additionally, David Raska, a marketing professor at Northern, challenged ten of his students to raise as much as they could for Mentoring plus for #GivingTuesday, with the promise that he would match their donation up to $1000. Student Haley Payne organized a GoFundMe page in the final days before #GivingTuesday, raising $575. Raska’s match brought their total to $1150.
But they didn’t stop there. Earlier in the year during the Spring semester, those same marketing students worked on a project for Kona Ice.
“Tony Lamb (CEO and Founder of Kona Ice), needed to gain insights into what branding and products should be used to appeal to a new target audience,” Raska explained. “As such, the project focused on testing new brand and product concepts via online sample survey conducted with over 800 Millennials living in Greater Cincinnati/NKY area. We then used the data to present the client with recommendations regarding what brand concept to use, what products to offer under that brand concept, and whom to target and where to reach them.”
After completing the project, the students were invited to the Kona Ice Konvention, and were awarded $2000. Going into the giving season, the group still had $1700 remaining, and elected to add that to their #GivingTuesday contribution, bringing their new total to $2850.
All-in-all, NKU contributed nearly $4000 to Mentoring Plus is just a matter of weeks. We wish to thank them for their continuous efforts to improve the Northern Kentucky community. We are especially grateful that they have recognized Mentoring Plus as the recipient of these funds, allowing us to continue our mission.
So often, when we tell people about Mentoring Plus, it can be difficult to briefly describe just what it is that we do here. The truth is that our services are so broad and have such depth that summing it up into a few sentences can be a challenge. Yet, the impact that we’re seeing on the lives of the teens and families we serve is immense, and we can hardly keep ourselves from spreading the good news.
That’s why our #GivingTuesday Open House has become so important. Nothing that a volunteer or staff member can say will adequately capture the importance of our work to those who are served. Opening our doors to the public; allowing people to see, first-hand, what we do and how we do it has a way of bringing the program to life in a way that words alone cannot. And this year’s open house was particularly successful at that.
Finding its theme from the Lao Tzu quote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” guests had the opportunity to see Mentoring Plus through the eyes of the teens we serve. Starting by meeting a family who was relatively new to the Mentoring Plus, guests toured the building while meeting with more families and staff, each in a different stage of their journey through the program. What’s it like during the first couple of weeks attending M+? How does the curriculum develop and change over time? What role does the life coach/mentor play? How does our organization go beyond the teen, to serve the families? What changes, external and internal, have taken place in the youth and the family as a result of their participation? All of these questions and more were answered during the tour.
One of the greatest differences between Mentoring Plus and other organizations is the long-term commitment we make to our kids. It’s not unusual for a teenager to remain in the program for two or three years. Just think about how different your life was three years ago. Then try to remember the changes you experienced over the three years from ages 14 to 17. Kids go through massive changes during their teenage years, and these kids are particularly vulnerable to challenges and disadvantages during that time. So, getting the chance to hear from these young men and women as they share the stories of their own personal journeys through the program is often heart-breaking and inspiring. You could really see the journey of a thousand miles, and how each step along the way was significant.
As guests continued through the open house, they met with volunteers and staff who explained in greater detail how to contribute to the organization’s success. This helped our visitors to get a deeper understanding of the broad range of our services, and to see how they might put their own skills to use for us. They were able to meet with Program Director, Robin Anderson, as well as our new Executive Director, Chris Saunders. Several board members were also in attendance.
We also had two special guests, Ed Davis and Audrey Ann, who documented the entire event in photos. Be sure to Like us on Facebook to see all of the great moments they captured.
Again, Mentoring Plus wishes to thank everyone who was able to attend our Open House and express our deep gratitude to those who donated to our #GivingTuesday fundraiser. Thank you!
One of the things that sets Mentoring Plus apart from our peer organizations, is our long-term dedication to the teens we serve. Every young person admitted into our program commits to staying with us for at least one year. Just as important, we commit to be with them for a year.
At the heart of the program is the one-on-one relationship between that young person and their life coach. The teen and mentor meet once a week at the M+ building where they have dinner and follow the program curriculum. It’s usually a light, enjoyable evening for everyone involved, and allows the two principles to hang out and have fun in a relaxed (yet, structured) environment. Over time, however, that relationship becomes more and more important to the youth’s success–not just in the program, but in life.
Theirs’ is a lifestyle that looks more like survival. Living a life with more roadblocks than roads, these teens are growing up in circumstances that are unimaginably difficult. While most people might thrive when given the right support, these youngsters have no support. In fact, the places that you might turn in times of crisis — your family and friends — are the very places that these teens find the most hurdles. Often, it is those places of supposed comfort that someone in our program finds the most distress. And that is why the mentor is so important.
The mentor stands like a lighthouse among crashing waves; a beacon of stability and guidance in the most trying situations. The mentor provides a singular source of trust, hope, vulnerability, and eventually love. If the teens are the reason that this organization exists, then our mentors are our greatest asset. And if this program is to have any success, it is because of the relationships that are built between the teens and their life coaches.
In anonymous surveys taken by the teens in our program over the last twelve months, 95% said that their mentor helped them to feel good about themselves. 95% also either agreed or strongly agreed that their mentor helped them to challenge themselves, and 95% said that they could look to their mentor for guidance. Those numbers aren’t just impressive, they’re important! In the same survey, 55% of the teens felt respected by their parents, and only 45% felt that their parents even tried to understand them. This demonstrates the important role that these mentors play in the teens’ lives.
This is where we need your help. Currently, our organization is operating at just over 80% capacity. Ideally, we want to run at 100%, helping as many teens and families as possible. But admitting more youth requires that we have the volunteers to support them. The position of life coach is perhaps the most challenging volunteer role available, but it is certainly the most rewarding. Just as each teen admitted to the program agrees to participate for a full year, the lifecoach is asked to match that commitment. As mentioned before, the mentor/mentee pair attend the program once per week. They go through the planned curriculum together, building trust and developing mutual respect. Outside of the program visits, the two may meet up from time to time, or communicate more often on phone, text, or social media. And as the relationship grows we begin to see real changes in the youth.
November is National Inspiring Roles Models Month. Yes, that’s really a thing, and it’s going on right now. So think about who inspired you. Think about how you can inspire others. And consider becoming an inspiration to the people who need it the most.
To learn more about becoming a life coach or other volunteering opportunities, contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org or 859-462-4152.
Get acquainted with new Executive Director, Chris Saunders
As the newest member of the Mentoring Plus family, Mr. Saunders is very much at home already. This comes as no surprise, since he has long been in the service of disadvantaged youth in our area – and his leap of faith into leading Mentoring Plus has been in the making from the days of his own youth.
His time as a student at Northern Kentucky University produced a passion for helping others in need, so Chris devoted his studies to social work and public administration. In short order, Chris delved into the world of youth mentoring, and became a volunteer with the renowned Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati. Mentoring was a natural vehicle for his service-centered passions, and he witnessed firsthand the positive influence that he and countless other volunteers were able to provide for local youth.
Upon graduating, Chris took another leap – not only continuing as a mentor with BBBS, but also accepting a position as a Case Manager. It was there that his leadership in the mentoring world began; he implemented the mentoring program, and paired countless volunteers and children, with the singular focus of helping others achieve the same positive influence he had experienced in his own mentoring service.
His next leap found him landing just next door in Dayton Independent Schools, where he spent ten years as Program Director of 21st Century programming. Chris led his team in a tireless labor of love, striving to meet the needs of Dayton’s neediest students and families. Centered around academics, community development and social development, his program reached more than 35 percent of the student population; educators reported significant improvements in leadership, attendance and classroom behavior.
Chris is excited to now find himself at Mentoring Plus, the culmination of his local journey through youth mentoring and social services. And we are excited to see how his wide-ranging experience and passion will lead Mentoring Plus into our next big leap. Part of what Chris likes so much about this new “home” is not just the shared vision of helping children and parents, but that it’s also, unabashedly, a family. Chris’ family – his wife Erin, and children Sara and Ben (and their dog Duke) – have quickly welcomed these strange new extended family members from Mentoring Plus. His daughter Sarah recently remarked, with the unvarnished honesty of the very young, “Dad, you’re like the principal and have the coolest job in the world.” (She is also advocating for her father to spend less time on papers and more time using the basketball court at his office – we shall see if she makes any progress on this front.) And while he may not be a “principal” per se, she has the key kernel of truth down flat. Chris’ foundation of service to others will no doubt help all of us continue the mission of guiding kids, supporting families and strengthening the community. He lives by a family truth instilled long ago, that of the golden rule – do to others as you would have them do to you. So we happily anticipate seeing what lies ahead.
by William LJ Cole, Board Member
We Are Bound Together
Nonprofits are bound to their communities, and those communities are bound to them; they share the same desire: “to see the world become a place in which our children can grow free and strong.” In an age when social and community consciousness is increasing, when governmental fiscal constraint is celebrated, and when youth are exposed to more dangers — both subtle and overt — it has become more important than ever for organizations like Mentoring Plus to provide services and programs that strive to improve their communities. As the workload grows, so too does the need for capital, both physical and financial. More volunteers are needed to perform the work of improving the lives of those being served, and, naturally, money is required to effectively tackle the growing list of goals and tasks.
In some ways, we are fortunate to be facing those challenges now. The Millenial generation has grown up, and with them, collective concern for community has grown, too. Known for their fierce compassion as much as their addiction to tech, these young adults are heading back to city centers and bringing their energy with them. They seem to feel called to lend a hand in the human struggle unfolding around them, and they’ve helped Mentoring Plus gain more volunteers every year. Volunteer Coordinator Laura Gordon was hired in 2015 to handle the vital task of managing the volunteer force while also recruiting more people to donate their time. This has been a huge boost for the organization, because having more hands on deck allows for more needy youth to be served. And, unsurprisingly, doing more eventually costs more.
The Road That Lies Ahead
Boosts in volunteerism have arrived at the same time that state and local governments are cutting back on discretionary spending for service organizations. While Mentoring Plus was selected as the recipient of various government grants in 2015, that number fell in 2016 as government moved away from recurring annual grants in favor of one-time offers.
These changes come in the midst of the largest addiction crisis that Greater Cincinnati has ever seen. Many Mentoring Plus teens have been direct victims of the heroin epidemic – they have lost parents, family members, and friends to overdose. The inevitable economic and social fallout has frayed their communities and compounded their grief, challenging Mentoring Plus to expand more and more into family services, while still maintaining its youth focus. As needs grow, so does the scope of the program: in the first full year, 25 youth and family members were served. Now, that number has exploded to 175 and rising.
The ever-increasing number of services provided to the ever-increasing number of people being served, along with the decline in government grant spending leads to one inevitable outcome: a greater need for fundraising.
Now, Mentoring Plus is just weeks away from their biggest fundraising event of the year, The Seeds of Hope award ceremony. The goal is to raise $50,000 in one night: Friday April 28th, 2017 at the Newport Syndicate.
It’s clear that the need is greater than ever; that the number and variety of services will likely continue to expand alongside the number of people requiring assistance. And as Mentoring Plus works to meet those demands, the budget for good Samaritanism will continue to grow as well. Non-profit fundraising is more important than ever.
For the past 3 months, our teen Life Skills Lessons have focused on the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse. Using an evidence-based curriculum, the teens learned about the effects of heredity and environment on a person’s chances of becoming an addict. They were informed of high- and low-risk choices and created a personal plan for making healthy choices in the future. They had some difficult discussions with their mentors and other youth about their own experiences, the problems they see in their schools and communities, and whether or not any of it can truly be fixed.
This year, we were able to further engage our youth with the power of personal storytelling. Several local community members, like Vincent, spoke to our teens about their personal addiction and recovery journeys. Vincent is one of several volunteers working with Mentoring Plus through a partnership with the Grateful Life Center. Men who reach certain milestones in their recovery at GLC are able to work with the staff at both agencies to find appropriate paths to volunteering at Mentoring Plus – including sharing testimony with groups of youth, pitching in with event set-up and facility renovations, and preparing meals.
The message they bring with all of those efforts is powerful for our teens – addiction is real, and life-altering – but recovery is also real. In people like Vincent, our teens can see that there is hope in recovery; there is even the power to bring change to your own neighborhood. We hope their witness will impact the choices of our teens, and give them hope that the communities they live in can heal.