Joseph Lyons, director of Youngstown State University’s health and human services master’s program, and Michael Welsh, his graduate assistant, have founded a mentorship program for at risk youth.
The program aims to help troubled teens age 14-18 by pairing them with senior citizens for mentorship.
The two main functions the program hopes to serve for these teens is to prepare them for either future education, or for a place in the work force, and to impart general knowledge and life skills to these children who may not have had role models to impart it previously.
Welsh has had a variety of social work experience prior to this program and has learned a lot about the children in this segment of the population.
“A lot of these individuals don’t need rehabilitated. They need habilitated,” he said. “They’ve never had a guidance or social structure that provided them with certain life skills that folks like you and I take for granted.”
Lyons views the targeted age group of the program as a critical point for these children.
“These individuals are on the threshold of going one way or the other. If they go in the negative direction they could end up in the prison system or on probation, so turning these people around, getting them into education, getting them into a job, getting them into a life independent of an institution is really the way to go,” Lyons said.
One reason this is such a critical time for these teenagers is that they are approaching the point in their lives where they have traditionally been abandoned by the system. As such, many people are cared for through childhood and upon reaching their teenage years released from institutional support without any idea how to become successful citizens in society.
“The problem when you’re 17 years old is you’re afraid of what’s going to happen to you, and you don’t know what’s going to come since you’ve only been around 17 years,” Lyons said.
Lyons hopes that mentors can help prepare these children.
Maureen Reardon, YSU’s internship coordinator, is serving as a mentor in the program. She also believes that it can help to fill a role absent from many of these teenager’s lives.
“I think [the program] is very important. We have a lot of children who do not have all the strengths that others have within family life. Some children live in residential centers, some live with only one parent. I think we are addressing broken families and helping children to grow into the potential people they can be,” Reardon said.
Lyons and Welsh have worked closely with local organizations Safehouse Ministries and Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Mahoning Valley in developing their program. Many of the youth being paired with mentors come from these programs.
The mentorship program has been funded by a $13,875 grant from the Youngstown Foundation. This is a one-time start up grant, and the program hopes to find additional funding for the future.
A steering committee has been organized, comprised of YSU faculty, local judges, elected officials and other members of the community who have pledged their backing and resources.
State Senator Joseph Schiavoni is a member of the steering committee. He believes that the incorporation of individuals from various areas is integral to the program’s success.
“Everybody has to do their part in order for it to be a success, and I know that with the people here, it will be,” Schiavoni said.
YSU President Jim Tressel is pleased for the university to be a part of this program.
“It’s always good when people come together to serve others,” Tressel said. “There are so many good things going on in our community. At YSU we’re very proud to be a part of this particular one.”