Four named Michigan's Mentors of the Year

Mentors of the Year

The Mentor of the Year award honors an individual who has made a significant difference in a child's life over time through mentoring. 

This year the Michigan Community Service Commission honored:

Lee Ellen Kerr has mentored more than 20 young women and helped them identify a path for their future. Since 2014, she has supported youth in creating five-year strategic plans for their college and career success and provided life skills coaching through the Winning Futures mentoring program. Lee goes above and beyond by setting up job shadowing and internship opportunities, making sure the students are prepared and have the confidence to succeed, as well as ensuring her mentees have transportation to their internships. It is through her encouragement, that Lee has kept many students from dropping out of school and helped them to pursue their dreams.  “Lee makes me feel good. She tells me that I can do anything if I just put my mind to it and believe that I can get it accomplished,” said Mercedes Talley, one of her mentees. In addition, Lee has made a lasting impact on the Winning Futures organization, serving in an advisory role to new mentors, providing advice and coaching. Lee also created the GLAD program at Dow Automotive. The program has diversified its outreach so that the group provides training for allies as they support the LGBTQ community at Dow. Through GLAD, she has started informational sessions for parents of LGBTQ youth, training them on how to support their children, initiate the coming-out process and other vital topics.

John Noling has spent his entire life helping to provide opportunities for Muskegon’s youth. He has mentored countless young people and helped them aspire to be leaders in their community. A retired teacher, John has served with the Muskegon Rotary Club since 2006 and quickly took the lead on many youth initiatives. He had a dream of starting youth Rotary Clubs in schools to help them develop leadership skills through mentoring. It has been nine years since this beginning, and as a direct result of his efforts, over 150 students are now involved.  The goal of the program is to encourage youth to take action and build international understanding, as they discover the power of Service above Self.  To develop the program, John recruited students, helped fundraise, and led many youth international service trips to increase access to clean water and latrines and build multi-generational houses in other countries. John has dedicated his life to engaging youth in opportunities that will help them develop skills that will last a lifetime. Whether he is serving as a key volunteer for the “Sisters Cities” youth exchange program to Japan, planning Law Day, or ensuring that children have the ability to learn how to fish, John will do the behind the scenes work that empowers other mentors to step into the lives of youth and make a lasting impact. As Muskegon County Commissioner Bob Scolnick said: “John is very humble, and he never seeks credit, but his tireless efforts have made a tremendous difference for youth in our community.”

Khali Sweeney founded the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program to provide a free, after school academic and athletic program for Detroit students to help them avoid the challenges he faced when he was young. Khali grew up in a tough Detroit neighborhood. He was passed from grade to grade without learning to read and failed to complete high school. He took to the streets and lived a destructive lifestyle until an older brother pointed out that all his friends were either in jail or deceased. Khali decided to make a change. He taught himself to read and worked tirelessly at tough jobs until he had saved up enough money to start the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program in 2007. He wanted to mentor youth and show them how to make positive choices. “It took me 20 years to climb out of that hole, and when I climbed out I saw a line as far as the eye can see of kids ready to fall in the same hole,” Khali said. “What kind of man would I be if I let them fall in that hole without trying to warn them?” To participate in the boxing program, students learn “books before boxing” and volunteer in the community. Students have access to tutoring, college and career readiness workshops and free healthy meals and snacks. The program has had a 100 percent high school graduation rate during the last 10 years with many participants attending college and pursuing their dreams. The program has grown and thrived and currently has an 850-child waiting list. Khali won’t stop serving until every student on the list has been reached. “Khali is a true inspiration and an example of how one person can make a lasting and significant impact on their community,” said Matthew Roling, CEO of Boost Up

Charles Thomas Jr. has helped young men stay out of trouble and keep on the right path for decades. He has mentored at-risk boys and helped them create a better life. In 1999, Charles formed an organization called RESULTS (Reaching Every Student Using Love Training and Support) Mentoring. The nonprofit targets underserved youth and provides mentoring and redirection/behavioral intervention. Charles has served more than 12,000 hours with his organization and raised $800,000 to support mentoring, tutoring and redirection programs for RESULTS. He has also worked in collaboration with other organizations to take 40 young men annually on an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., and New York.  As part of their journey, they visit historical sites and learn from positive male role models. Charles knows that he alone cannot fill the mentoring gap for the young men of Detroit, and he has joined forces with churches and other organizations to recruit others to serve. In recognition of the many mentors that are making a difference, Charles sponsors an annual awards dinner to honor them for helping Detroit youth reach their full potential. His dedication and passion are a true inspiration to many, as is represented by this praise of one of his mentees, “I’ll forever love and appreciate what you did for me. I was an extremely lost youth, and you took the time out to make sure I didn’t fall into the cracks of life!”