Mentoring, at its core, provides a young person with an adult figure who is invested in their future. It’s someone who’s in their corner that they can look up to and helps them navigate their day-to-day challenges. Research confirms that having a strong mentor relationship has profound positive effects on youth in a variety of personal, academic and professional situations. Ultimately, mentoring enables a young person to experience personal growth and development, which in turn, can build confidence and contribute to the skills necessary for additional social and economic opportunities. Yet one in three people will grow up without a mentor.
United Way of Metro Chicago and our corporate partner Exelon, along with the help of six partnering organizations, recognized this gap our youth face and responded by creating a program to address the issue. The Stay in Schools (SIS) initiative provides supportive programming, academic tutoring and mentorship opportunities to young people across the Chicago region.
Pedro Feliciano is an employee with Exelon and has been an SIS mentor for 12 years. He said throughout his time as a mentor he’s witnessed apathetic and directionless young people transform into self-assured and motivated professionals. For instance, Feliciano recalled meeting a young man named Justin who entered the program as a freshman in high school. Justin was shy and lacked confidence. Like many young adults, he didn’t have any idea what he wanted to do with his life. Feliciano, along with other Exelon mentors, worked closely with Justin to help him reach his potential by coaching him on how to communicate in a business setting with poise and empowering him to take control of his future by having him set his own goals.
After Justin had been in the program for a while, Feliciano recalled meeting Justin’s mom who told him she didn’t recognize her son since his participation in SIS began. “You know my son came to this program on a Saturday morning and when he came back he was a different person,” she told Feliciano. “I don’t know what you said to him, I don’t know what you did, but now he is more motivated to go to school and chase his dreams.” Justin’s mom said he is no longer lost, but instead is excited about his future and inspired to grab life by the horns. Justin graduated from high school and went on to culinary school to chase his dream of becoming a chef.
The care and attention that Justin received by mentors like Feliciano is representative of the support provided to all the mentees who participate in the Stay in School Initiative. 17-year-old Semetrius Holmes, who is currently enrolled in SIS, joined when he was a sophomore in high school. Much like Justin, Semetrius said upon entering the program he lacked confidence and had trouble talking to people. Mentors from Exelon provided Semetrius internship opportunities that gave him real work experience. Semetrius said those opportunities helped him develop his interpersonal skills and allowed him to connect and network with peers from other communities throughout the Chicago region. “Now I feel like I can talk to anybody,” said Semetrius. “My new motto is ‘be better than I was yesterday.’”
The Stay in School initiative has served approximately 27,000 students since its founding in 2006. Missy Carpenter, Sr. Manager of Education here at United Way of Metro Chicago, said the program truly makes a difference in the lives of many youth in the region and is a testament to the work and vision of all those involved. “Supportive adult relationships are crucial for young people, which is why we are so proud of the partnership with Exelon and the six Stay In School participating organizations. The initiative not only strengthens the work those organizations do with youth every day in their communities, but it also brings those young people together with Exelon’s incredibly caring and talented staff, for support and guidance,” said Carpenter.
For many young adults, having the opportunity to meet professionals who can provide career and social guidance to them is invaluable. The mentor relationship can inspire these youth to consider their career goals at an early age and provide them with the skill set needed to help them achieve their dreams.