Building relationships, nurturing potential

Mentoring Youth for Leadership, a ministry of Justice For All, aims to match youth with adult mentors. The program seeks to encourage and equip youth by matching them with an adult mentor who acts as a trusted friend, a positive role model and a nurturer of potential. Justice For All, in partnership with ATLAS of Lyon County, began implementing the program last summer, and now, a year later, they’ve successfully matched 16 youth with adult mentors.

“We started preparing the program last June and over the summer, and then our matches started meeting in September,” explained Beth Judd, Lyon County coordinator for the Mentoring Youth for Leadership program. “It’s really neat to see Justice For All and ATLAS work together. We also work alongside George-Little Rock, Central Lyon and West Lyon school districts and they’ve absolutely been supportive, whether it’s been sharing the word about the program through their faculty or directly to parents.”

Eleven Central Lyon students have found mentors through the program, along with three students from George-Little Rock and two from West Lyon. Students typically meet with their mentors at least twice a month. “Some of them will meet up in the community, and others have met during the lunch period at school,” said Judd.

Jamie VandeWeerd is one of 11 students at Central Lyon to be matched with a mentor. The 14-year-old says the program has been very beneficial to her because “I like to have someone I’m able to talk to that I know won’t share anything to anyone else.”

VandeWeerd’s mentor, Debby Kraai, said she finds the program beneficial as well. “Just getting to know Jamie has been a lot of fun, so that’s probably been my biggest benefit. And it’s fun!”

Kraai said she and VandeWeerd try to get together twice a month, depending on each of their schedules. “We started meeting early this year. Probably two of our favorite things are eating and playing games. We also enjoy hanging out and going different places and just doing regular things together. We visited somebody in the hospital one day and we went to Falls Park. There was another time we needed to get together and I had to go to Wal-Mart, so we just bummed around Wal-Mart for a while. We also did a baking day which was really fun!”

Added Jamie, “I personally enjoy going to play games with Debby because I feel like she’s not as competitive, so I get to win more than she does.”

Debby laughed, saying she’s not quite sure she agrees with thatstatement. The two said they really enjoy playing board games as well as bowling on Debby’s Xbox.

For Judd, the program is also very beneficial. “It’s really rewarding to see the benefit to not only the youth and mentors, but also the families of these kids. There’s a saying that goes ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and so for families to have that added support or go-to person to come and just have fun with and build a relationship with their child is a really neat thing.”

The Mentoring Youth for Leadership program is funded by a grant from the Department of Justice in partnership with the Leadership Foundation. Justice For All partly funds the program through that grant, and also provides training to any would-be mentors.

Judd said they had a goal of creating at least 12 matches within each school year, so with 16 matches made in the last year alone, the program is off to a strong start. And yet, she says it’s really only just getting started. “We’re looking to engage additional youth as well as adults to mentor, and we’re also hoping to do more group activities where people can maybe come in and share their life experiences and how they’ve overcome adversities.”

While most of the matches have been meeting individually, there have also been a couple group outings, including a trip to the game room at Dordt College in Sioux Center last year and a summer picnic at Island Park in Rock Rapids in early June. “There hasn’t always been a lot of interaction between the matches and that’s one thing we think would be valuable, is to give the youth the opportunity to interact with each other, and hopefully some would be more apt to get involved if their peers are alongside them,” said Judd.

A mentoring open house will be held Wednesday, Aug. 9, at 1 p.m. at the ATLAS annex building, 111 First Ave., Rock Rapids. The Mentoring Youth for Leadership program will be one of multiple opportunities people can learn about or sign up to participate in.

Judd added that for the upcoming school year, the program will continue to offer weekly and biweekly meetings and will also hold one-on-one and group meetings on a monthly basis beginning at 1 p.m. in Rock Rapids on the second Wednesday of each month, as Central Lyon dismisses school early on those days. She said similar possibilities are being explored for the West Lyon and George-Little Rock communities as well.

Jamie VandeWeerd and her mom Jody both said they’d encourage other youth and adults to look into the program. “I would say that if you have a child who maybe isn’t as outgoing or just needs that extra person to talk to, definitely look into the program to see if a match can be made,” said Jody.

For Kraai, being able to mentor Jamie means a lot. “One of the biggest reasons I got involved was that it gave me the opportunity to help someone else in the process of growing up. Also, I’m very much a people person, and I think relationships are just super important. God created us for relationships.”

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