Church and non-profit partner with Warren high school to provide mentoring that keeps kids in school

Dream Center Mentoring

When Dan Stewart, the director of the Warren Dream Center, received a Pathways to Potential flyer in the mail, he saw it as a call to action.  “We’re always listening for needs in the community, so as a church we can make an impact,” said Stewart, who is also the pastor at the Woodside Bible Church in Warren.

The flyer invited non-profits and faith-based organizations to get involved in supporting the success of students at Lincoln High School.  Stewart contacted Pathways to Potential success coach Tulani Person, and a meeting was set with the school’s Pathways to Potential staff and principal to discuss ways Woodside Bible Church could be of assistance.

The group began to brainstorm ways to support the students. “We thought, what if we brought in volunteers to come alongside students and encourage them, inspire them and make sure they know there are people who believe in them,” said Stewart.  Soon the church had a number of volunteers willing to meet Monday mornings with the high school students, and the Dream Center Mentoring Program was born. 

Person, who played a lead role in starting the program, said the goal of the mentoring group is to help students improve their attendance, grades and social behavior. “As the success coach at Lincoln High School, I noticed a big gap between the students’ education and socialization.  They are expected to come to school consistently, obtain high test scores and maintain positive social interaction with school staff and peers, but a majority of the students lack basic social skills and resources to meet school expectations,” said Person.

The Dream Center program tackles this challenge by having mentors from the surrounding community set goals with the students to improve school attendance, grades and social behavior. The group meets Monday mornings for 45 minutes. Through the use of a teen-centered book and accompanying workbook, the students learn about the character traits of individuals who accomplish their goals. These traits are also modeled by the mentors.

Year Two and the program can’t meet the demand
When the Monday morning mentoring group started in late January 2015, they averaged the same 10 students each week through May.  This school year, those numbers have more than doubled, and they are at capacity for the group.  Not only have they had to turn kids away, but those participating have asked to meet more than one day a week, which unfortunately the program can’t do at this time. 

According to Person, the greatest benefit of the mentoring group is helping the students improve their social skills. “When their social skills improve, their attendance, grades and behavior improve,” said Person.  Students have stated the mentoring helps them deal with social issues and focus more on their education. 

Mentors benefit too
Esse Tuke, an attorney and mentor in the program, said although she has four children, she still thought she could help, even if it was only to listen to children in the program.  “When they [the students] met on Monday mornings, they weren’t their stories or their background. They were just kids talking about their futures and bettering themselves,” said Tuke. 

The mentors also gained a great deal from the program. “I would read stuff in the book (used in the program) for teens and think, ‘Man, this is great stuff for people my age because although we’re supposed to be the professionals, we struggle with a lot of the same things the teens do at times, just at a different level,’” Tuke said.  “We had a great group of people – realtors, pharmacists, hair dressers, moms and people -- who just care,” said Tuke of the other mentors.

She explained that when the mentors shared their stories, the students could see that it’s not all easy.  “Even though we have businesses, we didn’t all start there, and some of us have stories similar to the kids,” said Tuke.  “I gave them perspective by saying, ‘I was in your shoes before; I was there.’” Sharing insight is what keeps the students coming back, and their receptivity to the advice keeps the mentors coming back. 

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care about them,” said Tuke.  “If you don’t connect with them first, they’re not going to care. You could be Bill Gates, but if you come in with a cold, aloof, attitude, you’re not going to connect.  We aren’t there as business people, we’re there as caring adults.”

Benefits from a student’s perspective
When asked about school, Tia Cole, a 16-year-old program participant, described it like this: “My ninth-grade year was really rough. I did not want to come to school. I was scared of high school. It came so fast, and school started so early. I was just hanging out, playing around, listening to my peers, who were saying, ‘Don’t go to high school. Don’t go to ninth grade. You can just pick up in your 10th grade year.’” 

Community_Mentors_2At the time of her interview, Tia had great attendance and loved coming to school. “Mr. Franco has helped me so much. I’m seven-months pregnant now, but Tim motivated me to come to school. Lincoln is really motivational.  I love the clerks at the front desk. I was doing horrible my ninth-grade year, and now I’m so proud of myself.  I’m looking for a job. I’m just growing up.  I’m mature for my age. I’ve been through a lot, seen a lot and done a lot, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to say ‘I just give up, life’s too hard.’”

When asked about the program that had just  ended for the school year ,Tia stated: “It was awesome and fun. They taught me that to be an adult is not easy. I learned that they [the mentors] take their careers seriously. They showed me that what they were going through didn’t stop them. I learned how to stay committed and not lie to myself.  We had a book that we wrote in about what we were going to work on each week. I’d be so excited to come every Monday because we’d get to eat and learn how to become a better person.”

To complete the program, the youth were taken on a four-hour, whirlwind tour of businesses that the mentors ran. They went to a hair salon, a pharmacy and a real estate office. “I learned that just because you fail, doesn’t mean you’re a failure,”  one student said.

 “Everyone talks about this generation, and how they don’t care but Tia does, said Tuke, who was Tia’s mentor. “I was so impressed with her that I said, whatever I can do to help, I’m going to do it.”

If you’re interested in helping Michigan students succeed, visit www.michigan.gov/PathwaysToPotential to find a Pathways school near you. 

This article is one of a series highlighting community partners working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to improve attendance in schools across Michigan.  Through Pathways to Potential, MDHHS has placed success coaches and other employees in over 200 schools across the state. These people work one-on-one with families to identify and remove barriers to children attending school. We are always looking for new partners, volunteers and donors. Visit www.michigan.gov/pathwaystopotential to learn how you can donate, partner or volunteer.