Voices: Teen Perspectives – Ben’s Story

When Ben* started at Mentoring Plus at the age of 12, he desperately wanted a mentor. Life had been difficult – full of troubled relationships and trauma – so Ben naturally wished and hoped for “someone, anyone, to talk to.” Like any new experience, he was “mellow” about it at first, but eventually became comfortable as part of the group. Four years later, he still attends the weekly Independent Living Program, with a priority on schoolwork and job search.

At 16 years old, Ben is thinking about the future. He goes to college-level classes at Gateway in the mornings and then takes a bus to his regular high school in the afternoons. He can laugh now about the “scariest” part of the whole experience (thinking he missed the acceptance phone call from the Gateway program) and is greatly looking forward to a graphic design class next semester. That class is the first step in his plan to become an artist for Japanese animation and graphic novel publishers. He also has hopes of studying abroad in Japan to gain experience in the industry.

When he’s not busy at Gateway, he’s still working hard at Mentoring Plus. He is trying to improve family relationships and find a job to pay for school. His favorite person at program is Kevin Kennedy, the executive director. Ben chose Kevin as a favorite without a moment’s hesitation, saying that Kevin “has been with me through thick and thin – he’s like a dad or a brother to me.” That long-ago wish for “someone, anyone to talk to,” has been fulfilled many times over, and it seems to show in Ben’s sense of hope for his own future.

*names have been changed to protect privacy

One Year Later: Teen Perspectives

ONE YEAR AGO, Masius addressed an audience of over 200 supporters at the annual Seeds of Hope event:

“My name is Masius; before I started Mentoring Plus, I lived in Alabama and moved to Cincinnati when I was 15. I felt like, in this place, I had been given up on. Like I didn’t belong anywhere – wasn’t wanted anywhere.

I had a difficult relationship with my mom and sister, and my dad never made an effort to be a part of my life. I was also unemployed, unprepared to get a job, and had no confidence in myself. I had no vision for my future, and that really didn’t bother me at all.

My friend Tyressa was attending Mentoring Plus and wanted me to join. So I did, and I started working on getting back into school and learning how to find a job. At Mentoring Plus I met wonderful people who cared, and motivated me to do more for myself. They believed in me, and nagged me, and pushed me to work on my goals, and that helped me get back some of the confidence I had lost.

Since I’ve joined Mentoring Plus, I have gained the skills I need to be independent – keeping a schedule, interviewing well, dressing for success, and a good work ethic.

I recently found a job, and I really have been doing well. The day I got the job, I felt like God had finally heard my prayers, and was rewarding my years of struggle and hard work. I also just got my driver’s license and saved up enough money to buy my first car.

My plan for the future is to get my GED and go to college for business, and someday open my own barbershop. I have opened a savings account and learned to manage money, which will help me achieve my dream of owning my own business. I want to thank Mentoring Plus for the help they have given me and for never letting me give up on myself.


ONE  YEAR LATER:  After graduating from Mentoring Plus six months ago, Masius is still working hard, having kept his job for over a year now. Masius also purchased a car, which has allowed him to improve his work schedule and increase his on-the-job training and advancement. He is continuing to work in his GED program, and still visits his second “family” at Mentoring Plus from time to time. We planted a “seed of hope” for him in 2012 – hope for Masius and for his future –  and we have been privileged to watch him grow into the hard-working young man he is today.


The Quiet Rock Stars

Hero. Advocate. Champion. Family.

These are the words used by others to describe who our mentors really are. You would never know it walking past them on the street. They are the most unassuming of rock stars, the humblest of superheroes. Say “thank you,” and most of them smile sheepishly, and insist that your gratitude is unnecessary. They are humbly embarassed by our acknowledgements, and yet, it is that very same modesty that demands such recognition in the first place.

They turn up every single week, after long days at work, and continue to give their time and love to our teens. And after years and months of hard work, hours upon hours of patience, they want no recognition for it. They mentor because it is the most natural thing in the world to them – to give, to love, to fulfill a need – and they require no thanks in return. 

Since we know they won’t take credit for any of it, we can only hope they know what a difference they have made in the lives and futures of so many young people. So, perhaps in vain, we extend our thanks to our mentors, who continue to dedicate themselves with such constancy and humility to the kids who need them the most.


Baseline Normal

by Billy Cole

The teenage years are never easy. Even with a supportive family to guide you through the challenges of peer pressure, academic pressure, personal anxieties, and hormonal imbalances…the teenage years aren’t easy. Even when discipline is fair; when criticism is constructive; when the family budget allows for three nutritious meals a day…the teenage years aren’t easy.  Even when a young person can wake up in a safe and clean home, attend a safe school, and enjoy a day free from abuse – returning home each night to a place of comfort and love; when life is normal…the teenage years aren’t easy.

For all human beings, our baseline for normal reflects what we experienced most in our childhood, (love, attention, neglect, deprivation, or violence). That baseline then becomes what we consider to be “normal.”  This baseline normal concept was developed by Russian therapist Marilyn Murray. Her book The Murray Method, describes how a healthy person may have a high baseline for normal, while others’ is in the gutter. In his autobiography, Mike Tyson explains what he learned from Ms. Murray by describing his baseline normal as a life of “sex, alcohol, drugs, violence, more sex, more alcohol, more violence, and chaos,” and that was before he ever found fame and fortune in the boxing ring.  Murray strives to teach adults to break their addictions to chaos, and to raise their baseline normal to a place that is healthy.

As a volunteer at Mentoring Plus, I was able to see the drastic (yet obvious) difference between my normal life and the “normal life” of the teenagers in our program. I always knew that the electricity would be on in my house. There would always be a roof over my head, and I returned home every day, confident that my family and belongings would be safely inside that house. The kids we serve sometimes return home to find their few possessions on the street, eviction notice on the door. My mother would have a meal prepared for dinner. These kids can rely on one good meal each day: school lunch. Summer time brings with it 12 weeks of doubt and hunger for meals. The “sex, alcohol, drugs, violence, and chaos” that Mr. Tyson describes was non-existent in my life, and yet it is a constant part of the lives of the urban youth that reside right here in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.

The real challenge for me, as a mentor, is grasping that their disadvantaged lifestyle isn’t viewed by them as disadvantaged. Their struggles aren’t some great obstacle to overcome. Those challenges that I see: abuse, poverty, uncertainty, malnourishment, sexual misconduct, drugs and alcohol; are all just a normal part of life. This is their baseline normal.

Marilyn Murray’s career has been built on helping adults to reverse the damaging effects of a lifetime spent with that baseline far below the ideal. We spend every day teaching young people what normal could be – what it should be. Love and encouragement, balanced with healthy discipline and clear expectations will elevate that baseline to a place where one actually feels safe and secure.

Everyone who is involved with Mentoring Plus is helping shift the baseline normal for so many of our youth.  If this is the kind of difference that if you are interested in making right away, please contact Robin to get involved with this wonderful organization.

Parent Perspectives: Carol & Dan

For parents like Carol and Dan*, Mentoring Plus is like no other program out there, and it’s made a huge difference in their lives. Their adopted daughter Nicole* enrolled in 2010, at age 14; seeking help with behavioral, social, and academic issues. She had tried many other programs, but Mentoring Plus was the only one she really responded to. Her parents say that being around other teens in similar situations helped her realize she’s not alone. And she appreciates that we’re “not preaching at her, but working with her.”

Carol and Dan found support at Mentoring Plus that they weren’t able to get anywhere else: “Knowing that somebody cares outside of our household makes a world of difference.” They found that other agencies just didn’t listen, and that Mentoring Plus staff members were the only ones able “to see every facet of the situation… the only ones who want to try new things.”

Carol says she would absolutely recommend Mentoring Plus to other parents: “It encompasses so many areas, like school, relationships, family interactions, spirituality (when most places don’t want to talk about spirituality). The focus is on the entire makeup of a human being, not just one aspect like a learning issue. Mentoring Plus sees Nicole as a whole person, not a list of problems.” 

Supporting families is a key part of the program, and Carol has seen change within her whole family. This summer, Nicole is headed to camp for the first time ever, thanks to program funding and the efforts of her case manager. Carol knows that she’ll have a chance to be a teenager – something they could not have afforded to do without help. Summer camp isn’t the only new thing for Nicole this year. She recently transitioned to the Wednesday group for older teens. She’ll learn independent living skills, prepare to find a job, and determine her academic path after high school, all while continuing to receive program support.

*names have been changed to protect privacy