Goodwill mentors at-risk youth

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Goodwill Southwestern Pennsylvania is in need of a few good mentors. Their GoodGuides Youth Mentoring Program targets at risk youth in Allegheny County, helping them build life skills and career plans.

“The youth will benefit by learning through career exploration and goal setting.  They will discover opportunities and possibilities they may not have ever thought about,” said Program Manager Jackie Abel-Stavropoulos. “They can go on to college if they wish and even if they don’t they still can have a good future by planning.”

GoodGuides
GOOD GUIDES—Lamar, right, gets help with college applications from Remie, a volunteer mentor.

The program is part of Goodwill’s national initiative funded by a $19.1 million grant to Goodwill Industries International from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Delinquency Prevention. It targets youth suffering from risk factors such as abuse, disability, drug or alcohol dependence, family violence, or gang membership.

“They are not locked into anyone else’s life or expectations. It is okay to dream and to want things and that they can achieve those goals if they are willing to work toward them,” Abel-Stavropoulos said.  “A few weeks ago we helped three young African-American males fill out college applications.  That was a very good feeling. We are having a job shadowing day on Ground Hog Day and 20 local youth will have the opportunity to spend the day at a workplace talking about the kind of work, what type of education or training it takes to do that job and what the job is really like.”

Through the program youth meet with their mentors weekly to receive academic tutoring, post-secondary education preparation and help with life skills such as decision making and interpersonal relationships. Another key component of the program is creating a service project to give back to the community.

“When we ask the kids initially what they want to do about 90 percent of the males say they are going to play professional football, pro basketball or be a rapper,” Abel-Stavropoulos said.  “All those are possible, but we ask, ‘What’s the backup plan?  What if you blow out a knee?’ We talk about mapping ways to get there and figure out ways that they can stay in the field they love, even if they are not the superstar.  What about sports medicine, coaching, or sports officiating?

There could be opportunities in marketing and communication, lots of things to think about.”

The program, which began in the summer of 2010, is currently serving youth in South Side, Lawrenceville, Shadyside/Homewood, Carnegie, Homestead and   Braddock. More mentors are needed to jumpstart outreach to more neighborhoods such as North Side, Robinson/Crafton, Hazelwood, McKeesport, Rankin and the Hill District.

“Initially we targeted about 20 areas that were high risk for youth. Then we started to find locations/partners and mentors and those were the areas that responded first,” Abel-Stavropoulos said. “Within the next few weeks we should begin working with youth in East Liberty, North Side, McKeesport and the Hill District.”

Mentors must make a one-year commitment to their mentees and attend orientation, mentor trainings and group activities. In return they receive 20 percent off at Goodwill Stores and the opportunity to participate in activities such as the Goodwill Literacy Initiative Graduation & Recognition Ceremony, Volunteer Recognition Event, holiday parties, International Evening of Music and Dance and other social events.

“What the program needs now is more adult volunteer mentors to work with the youth and to serve as role models,” Abel-Stavropoulos said. “We currently have about 35 youth that need mentors.”

(For more information or to become a mentor contact Abel-Stavropoulos at 412-390-2308 or jackie.stavropoulos@goodwillswpa.org.)

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