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Viewpoint: Extend our reach, mentor a youth

Youth Outreach’s recent mentor-mentee volunteer outing to Feed My Starving Children included (front row, from left) Ryan West, Dusty Handshaw, Sam Lewis, Areanna Anderson, Trenton Smith, Chelsea Will; (back) Aimee Clites, Logan Kells, Sydney Lewis, Jay Wardle, Dave Gratz, Emmy Husfloen, Kali Muller, Angel Griggs, Amir Sutherlin, Quinton Smith, Bonnie Blomquist, Deanna Voth, Parker Quammen, Ken Bjornstad. Submitted photo1 / 2
Aimee Clites2 / 2

By Aimee Clites, Red Wing Youth Outreach

One year ago, Red Wing Youth Outreach began the groundwork to start up a mentoring program within Red Wing High School. The goal was to recruit about eight to 12 junior and senior students, match them one-on-one with a caring adult volunteer from the community, and facilitate discussions that help the students grow in social and emotional skills along with goal setting for after high school.

Identifying students who could benefit from a mentor relationship was a difficult task. Through the Mentoring Task Force of Every Hand Joined, the REACH survey was administered at Twin Bluff Middle School, Red Wing High School and Tower View Alternative High School in the fall of 2016. The Mentoring Task Force is made up of Goodhue County 4-H, First Covenant Church, United Lutheran, Environmental Learning Center, Hispanic Outreach, Youth Outreach, American Association of University Women, Red Wing High School, Twin Bluff Middle School, HOPE Coalition, Red Wing Family YMCA, United Way and Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing. The overall results proved Red Wing High School and Twin Bluff Middle School students were not feeling connected to their community.

The Mentoring Task Force saw the need and Youth Outreach stepped up. In the past, our services have been geared toward junior and senior students. With the numbers of students lacking a connection to our community being so high, we changed the way our organization serves students and moved to grades 9-12.

Beating the numbers

In pitching this voluntary program to nearly 70 students, we successfully recruited 44 students interested in participating. With this great promse of changing 44 young lives through the power of mentoring, we had a big challenge of needing to recruit adult mentors to match that number!

During the summer of 2017, Youth Outreach invited community members, retirees, local businesses and teachers to participate in our citywide mentor training.

This training is designed for anyone. We are all mentors in some capacity, whatever our sphere of influence may be. For those who felt inspired by this training and led to join the Youth Outreach mentor movement, signed up for our pilot program for the 2017-18 school year. The generosity and willingness of individuals and businesses stepping up and being the solution to the problem overwhelmed staff at Youth Outreach. We surpassed our need of recruiting 44 mentors, and recruited 49! We had to recruit more students, truly a miracle!

This past school year has been successful and a great learning year. Students meet with their mentor twice a month during the lunch hour and have intentional conversations about relationships, academics and post-high school plans. Throughout the school year we have hosted events for students and their mentors such as Thanksgiving dinner, Open Gym Y Night, and a volunteer day at Feed My Starving Children. All these outside events have helped promote stronger bonds between mentors and students, and these bonds will only grow stronger in the coming years.

Program expands

Because this pilot year has gone so well, we are growing and changing our program's approach once again. Next 2018-19 school year, we will be adding RWHS eighth-graders and also moving down to Twin Bluff — reaching fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders. We will now have the opportunity to offer support services and reach eight grade levels, potentially 120 students total within the Red Wing School District.

With this expansion comes another call to the community to step up and help the youth of Red Wing feel loved and supported. We are especially grateful to Red Wing Shoe, 3M, Mayo Clinic Health System and Discovery Financial for sending their employees during the work day to meet with students, donating over eight hours per mentor during the school year. We are hoping more businesses and community individuals will follow in their footsteps so we can recruit 100 more mentors in addition to our current mentors who will return next year.

We ask that you take thoughtful consideration in choosing to make a difference in the life of a youth. The commitment is at minimum one school year. Our hope is that you choose to walk alongside this youth throughout their entire schooling experience within Red Wing.

In order to measure if mentoring is working, we will continue to use the Reach Survey. The Reach Survey has been an amazing tool to show where the need is in our community. We look forward to the results year after year to track if what we are doing is working.

Being part of the Mentoring Task Force of Every Hand Joined has opened a door of communication between all the organizations that are tackling mentoring. Using the Collective Impact Approach, we are working toward one goal in our Red Wing community and it is paying off.

If you have any questions about the mentoring program, want to be equipped in our summer citywide mentor training or want to become a mentor to a middle or high school youth, please reach out to me at agclites@rwps.org or 507-301-4838.

Aimee Clites is a youth outreach worker is Red Wing Youth Outreach.