Guest post by Rev. Judie S. Martin, Executive Director, InnerCity Collaborative Community Development Corporation
This is the second post in a new blog series on “Building A Safer, Stronger DC,” featuring stories from grantees of the City Fund Safer, Stronger DC portfolio. View the full series here.
On a 95-degree day, high risk intervention strategist (mentor) Ronnie Myers ventured to Lincoln Heights to pick up five youth, ages 13-19. He gazed across the street to see what they see on a daily basis – crime, drug deals, fancy cars pulling into and out of the public housing complex, elderly women at the bus stop and young mothers with children just hanging out on the block. The youth thank Mr. Myers for coming to take them out for a meal at Chipotle and to talk about the upcoming school year. The conversation is mixed with highs and lows. The highlights are around going to school and having somewhere else to go every day. The lows are wondering whether they will make it through the year, as they begin to recount the friends that have been shot, bullied and even killed, just going to or from school. But despite all of that, they are eager and glad to hear about programs offered by the InnerCity Collaborative Community Development Corporation, including mentoring, housing assistance, counseling, and other social service referrals.
Through the Credible Messenger Initiative of the District’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and with funding support from Safer, Stronger DC, InnerCity Collaborative CDC has been able to work with some of the toughest youth, engaging in some of the riskiest behavior. These children and adolescents are at important periods of development and are vulnerable to taking the wrong step, which is why mentors are important for them. Mentors may not be able to change how fast a child’s brain develops or force a child to make certain decisions, but mentors can share their worldviews, experiences, knowledge, support and advice, as well as provide a positive influence. By introducing youth to new experiences and sharing positive values, mentors can help young people avoid negative behaviors and achieve success.
For example, another youth in our program has turned her artistic talent into a t-shirt that is being promoted as the DYRS call to action for anti-gun violence campaign, GUNZ DOWN DC. She and several other youths from our program are helping to promote this CTA on several media outlets throughout the city. Many of these youth, who have been victims of violent crimes themselves, have also made a song to accompany their message.
Research studies have found that there is a benefit of program participation for youth, with at-risk youth being most likely to benefit. A study of 46 programs for delinquency (e.g., aggression, drug use and academic achievement) found mentoring for high-risk youth to have a positive effect on delinquency, academic functioning, aggression and drug use.
Above all, mentors are motivators and role models, who believe in their mentees, see their potential and help them get to where they want to go. Children and adolescents, in contrast, have more limited worldviews and experiences, are individuating themselves, and are beginning to rely less on parents and more on peers. This is even more complex for adjudicated youth with whom the work of the InnerCity Collaborative CDC has as its primary focus. We provide high risk mentoring and wrap around support for the family as well as the youth. This type of engagement highlights the greatest need of the communities we support, family nurturance and guidance. If you think back to when you were a teenager, you may remember trying to figure out who you were and how to navigate through social norms. And most of us had a responsible adult that helped us to make those life choices. Such is not the case for many of the District’s inner-city youth and their families.
Despite the importance of mentorship for youth, one in three young people report never having an adult mentor while growing up. This statistic translates to approximately 16 million youth, including 9 million at-risk youth, reaching age 19 without ever having a mentor. For children and adolescents, finding a mentor can be more difficult. But thanks to the Safer, Stronger DC opportunity and the DYRS Credible messenger initiative we are changing lives and communities.