Local Guy Takes Leap of Faith

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.

The Task That Stands Before Us

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.

Personal Stories Bring Hope, Healing in the Age of Heroin

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.

Executive Director Receives Leadership Award

Mon, 03/13/2017, The River City News

courtesy River City News/rcnky.com

 The Newport Business Association named its new officers, board members, and handed out honors to local businesses and individuals at its celebration in February.

“This kind of takes my breath away,” said City Manager Tom Fromme in accepting the Community Leadership Award. “The success we’ve had and the success we’re gonna have is because we all work together. This is truly a community-based award.”

City and county officials attended the event at the Syndicate, along with community members and local business leaders.

Kevin Kennedy, CEO of Mentoring Plus, was also honored with a Community Leadership Award, while Rachel Comte and Steve Mathisen were recognized as Volunteers of the Year.

Ken Lewis accepted Business of the Year for New Riff Distilling. Industry Salon was honored as New Business of the Year, an award accepted by husband and wife, Kate and Toby Moeves. Hedgehog Signs, owned by Jim and Pam Claypool, also received a New Business of the Year award.

The NBA’s officers for the next year are President Mark Ramler (Mansion Hill Properties), Vice President Bev Holiday (City of Newport), Secretary Jaime Niemczura (American Diversified Development), and Treasurer Drew Bach (Michael P. Bach, PSC). Board members are Michael Bach (Michael P. Bach, PSC), Lynne Cole (Republic Bank), Peggy Cook (Newport on the Levee), David Dalton (The Think Shop), Charlie Fry (Master Fry Defense Systems), John Marlow (Mokka and the Sunset Bar & Grill), Jack Moreland (Southbank Partners), Marvin Polinsky (retired), Tete Turner (Newport Independent Schools), Jon Salisbury (Nexigen), Larry Weber (Huntington Bank), and Tammy Weidinger (Brighton Center).

(Photos by RCN)

Volunteer NKY: Growing Grassroots Movement

Volunteer NKY Encourages a Culture of Volunteerism

Volunteer NKY is a movement to encourage social service volunteerism in Northern Kentucky.  People helping people is their tagline.

This movement started in 2015 when the Life Solutions Network hosted its first volunteer fair at the Life Learning Center.  It was a small event that prompted bigger thinking.

The Planning Team developed the following Vision:

  • We build a more vibrant and engaged NKY by easily connecting people of all ages and all walks of life with opportunities to serve.
  • We are all in it together, everyone makes the world a better place in their own unique way.
  • People volunteer to their purpose, passion and potential.

In 2016, a Facebook page was started, two Volunteer Vision workshops were held, a Best Practices tool for volunteer leaders was developed and another volunteer fair was hosted.

Volunteer NKY is in its 3rd year and is making progress; even bigger plans have been made.  They will:

  • Host 3 volunteer fairs at various locations.
  • Develop a process to link skilled volunteers and service learners to needs.
  • Create a Speaker’s Bureau.
  • Host a “retreat” for volunteer leaders to include networking and best practices learning.
  • Continue to rollout the Volunteer Vision process and Best Practices tool.

The regional team is influencing volunteerism strategically and systemically, complementing the work of local organizations that need volunteers.

Tony Aloise, Life Solutions Network

The movement is driven by volunteers and volunteer professional from across the region.  Partners include Mentoring Plus, Brighton Center, St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Women’s Crisis Center, Welcome House and the Life Learning Center.

The Life Solutions Network continues to provide sponsorship and leadership.   This is a volunteer-driven network for volunteers and social service professionals who choose to serve our community by building the capability of people in need.  It was founded by Tony Aloise, a Procter & Gamble retiree who developed a passion for “life skills and volunteer solutions”.

You can learn more about the Life Solutions Network or Volunteer NKY by following the embedded links.

Now We’re Cooking, with CCCE

Teens in the Tuesday Plus group are “getting their fill” in a new skill area, and having a lot of fun doing it! In February and March, the Campbell County Cooperative Extension Service is sending Melissa Pilcher, Nutrition Program Assistant, to our Program to work with our youth to “help them eat better and to stretch their food dollar.” Ms. Pilcher teaches a series of free nutrition classes throughout Newport, Bellevue and Dayton. The lessons are materials from UK following My Plate, which is the USDA’s guide for a healthy lifestyle. Ms. Pilcher enjoys gardening and teaching people how to use items such as chard, kale and zucchini.

While delivering the basic lessons on meal planning, reading food labels and knowing the recommended limits on fat and sodium, Ms. Pilcher incorporates cooking recipes using food that is in season and lets them eat what they prepare. These skills are essential to teens in our Tuesday Plus group, as they prepare to live successfully on their own.

If you know of a church or Program in Campbell County that would benefit from these free classes, please contact Melissa Pilcher at:

Melissa Pilcher
University of Kentucky
Campbell County Nutrition Program Assistant

Phone: 859 586-6101 ext 405
[email protected]

8 Things Teens Need to Know

By Belle Zembrodt, MS, LPCC
NKU Honors Program Interim Director

1. College is not the same as high school.

There is a lot more freedom in college than high school but with that freedom comes responsibility.  In high school you spend about seven hours a day in class with a teacher telling you what to do and reminding you when it is due.  In college you may spend three hours a day in class but you are expected to spend time outside of class reading, preparing for the class, studying and keeping up with your assignments on your own.  It is important to read the syllabus to know what is expected and when.

2. You don’t need to have a major right away.

Sometimes students feel a lot of pressure to choose a major right away but if you are not sure about what you want to do, take the time to explore.  Colleges have a Career Services office where you can identify your interests and goals and learn about majors and careers that would be best suited to you.

3. Know yourself.

Many students have not considered what their values are or how new ideas might affect their behavior. Values form the basis of decisions.   Take time to reflect on what you believe and be yourself.

4. Treat others with respect.

There are people from all over the world on a college campus.  Some of these people may have ideas and values very different from yours. Everyone has dignity and deserves to be treated with respect.  It is to your advantage to talk with people different from you to gain a broader perspective on life and your own values.

5. Use the student support services.

Many students think that going to tutoring or the writing center means they are bad students.  Actually it is just the opposite.  Good students use these services so that they can do better.   Students who are less successful don’t go to class or do the work.

6. Be healthy.

Sleep is so important.  Be sure to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night.  Eat healthy.  Exercise. Colleges have campus recreation facilities and joining an intramural team is a great way to exercise and make friends.  It is easier to manage stress when you are healthy.  If you do have a cold or cough, go to the nurse at the Health, Counseling, and Wellness office.

7. Ask questions.

Don’t be afraid to ask. Asking questions is a way to learn.   People on campus are here to help.  If you aren’t sure who to ask, ask anybody.   If they can’t help you, they can point you in the right direction.

8. Don’t give up.

College may be big and scary at first.  But before long, you will know your way around and you will be helping other people.

Families Matter joins forces with Mentoring Plus

by Judge Michael “Mickey” Foellger

Our program grows and gets better at its purpose of “guiding kids” by improving our ability to “support families” through our new Parent/Caregiver Support Group. The pilot program, which started last fall, offers two on-site meetings per month during regular youth program hours. Mentoring Plus is most pleased to welcome our professional facilitator, Thomas Cox MS, TM, who is the director of Families Matter, Inc., a counseling service based in Florence, Kentucky. Initial feedback from parents has been powerful and positive: “they feel heard” and say they have “someone to listen to them who understands what they’re going through,” says Program Director Robin Anderson.

Families Matter offers family mediation at its facility in Florence, and facilitates co-parenting custody agreements as well as alcohol and substance abuse counseling, and Tom Cox has been providing these services for 30 years. He calls the program Parental Impact, and brings his expertise to our Newport location on the third Monday and Thursday of every month.

Parent(s), custodians, or guardians of any of our kids in the program may participate, and Mentoring Plus made easy access a top priority. Like every other service at Mentoring Plus, the program is free for all families, no matter what. Volunteers provide free child care (for the younger siblings), as well as free meals, eliminating some major barriers that would usually make it too difficult for families to attend. And we even provide transportation to and from the program with our (recently donated) beautiful van. Their younger children stay busy in the arts and crafts room, or even the gymnasium, with the undivided attention of childcare volunteers. Volunteer Coordinator Laura Gordon explains that “this Support Group seems to be very successful at breaking down barriers within the family unit which allows for a healthy healing process”.

Mr. Cox takes a very practical approach, directly addressing concerns, issues and questions that parents have when it comes to raising teenagers, and focuses on helping them to solve the problems that arise. “We don’t want preaching or arguing, and try to establish conversations between the kids and their custodians about the impact of the decisions kids make, such as drugs and alcohol,” says Tom. There is an entertainment aspect to Tom Cox’s program. He is also an award-winning comedian, who has appeared at the Funny Bone and other venues.

“This isn’t a school program or an intensive therapy session, it’s a comedy show that also deals with some very serious real life issues, in a laid-back atmosphere,” says Mr. Cox. “Parents or guardians can come in with questions, and leave with some answers and direction.”

Quite frankly, Parental Impact is a perfect match for Mentoring Plus and greatly enhances our ability to strengthen our community by guiding our teens to become healthy and productive members of our community.

HYPE Brings Hockey to Mentoring Plus Kids

HYPE Cincinnati (Harnessing Young Professional Energy) made arrangements for a fundraiser for Mentoring Plus at the Cincinnati Cyclones game on Jan 11. A portion of all tickets sold in our designated section came back to Mentoring Plus. We took a group of our kids to the game and they got to play “Big Ball” on the ice between 1st and 2nd period. It was a fun evening!

To learn more about HYPE click here. If you have an idea for a fundraiser for Mentoring Plus, call our Program Director, Robin Anderson at 859-982-5895.

Hope through Grace

by Kevin Kennedy

I think it is part of our human nature to want to control our destiny. Whether in our own lives or with our children, other family members or friends – we strive to be happy and content and we want that for our loved ones.

We feel very strongly in this way for the Mentoring Plus kids. We know that they have suffered greatly for most of their lives with abuse, neglect, poverty, mental illness and violence. So when they enter our program and become part of our ministry, we begin immediately taking action to empower them to bring about positive changes in their lives. We work on building self-confidence, improving study skills, finding jobs, and improving relationships. It’s often a long and rocky journey, but eventually our kids begin to see the results.But is this enough? Will our efforts solve all of their problems? The honest answer is “no”. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we know that no matter how skilled we are professionals in providing programming and services, it is not enough. We alone cannot give these kids everything they truly need to begin their healing and hope for a better future. Hence, we become frustrated, resentful, judgmental and ultimately lose faith.

So what can we do to help our kids believe in the possibility of a better life…that it’s more than a dream? The answer is to instill hope. Hope through God’s Grace. Like the Apostle Paul who had the “thorn in the flesh.” When he sought the Lord for it to depart he was told, “Paul, my grace is sufficient for you,” (II Corinthians 12). The Lord was not telling him to simply bear with it, but He was telling Paul to overcome it through His grace!

This same Grace gives mentors, volunteers and staff the patience, stamina, wisdom and capacity to demonstrate love for the kids. The kids know this. They sense the constant care, concern and love that is shown to them. They know that their Mentoring Plus “family” values them, believes in them and will never give up on them. Eventually they begin to value and believe in themselves; laying the foundation for their healing and growth. As one of our kids was recently heard saying about Mentoring Plus, “This is my family; they can’t take that away from me.”