Administrators of Community for Youth, from left, executive director Mark Takehara, director of development Kendra Steiner and program manager Sarah Larson, brainstorm ways to recruit more mentors for their program this year.
West Seattle Herald
By Lindsay Peyton
It’s all in the name.
Community for Youth is a nonprofit connecting high school students to the greater community through a mentorship program.
Executive director Mark Takehara said the structure sets the organization apart.
“The curriculum is all about community,” he said. “That’s something other youth development programs don’t do.”
Takehara assumed his post two years ago. “We’ve experienced tremendous growth since then,” he said.
During the 2014-2015 school year, the group helped 88 students. The following year, the number went up to 125.
This year, Community for Youth hopes to reach 160 students.
“Right now is our busiest time of year, trying to recruit mentors,” Takehara said. “We can really only serve as many students as we have mentors.”
Volunteers work with students from Chief Sealth, Cleveland, Garfield, South Lake, Rainier Beach and Franklin High Schools.
“Each of our students is unique, so we value having each of our mentors being different,” Takehara said.
He said all backgrounds are welcome – as long as volunteers are willing to make a serious commitment.
Program manager Sarah Larson explained that mentors spend about four hours a week with Community for Youth. They enroll in monthly mentors-only workshops, spend regular one-on-one sessions with the students and participate in group mentoring gatherings.
The students separate into “learning communities” — with 30 to 40 pairs in each.
Before the mentors meet the students, they participate in a number of workshops.
“We’re such a unique model, we want people to understand how we work,” Larson said. “We do a lot of community building and getting to know each other.”
Mentors also learn how existing biases may affect their communication with students.
“We explore how the way we are raised impacts the way we see the world,” Larson said. “When we’re aware of our biases, we can have a better relationship with our students.”
Students are recommended by counselors and teachers – but are also able to join on their own.
“Students are excited to get a mentor,” Larson said.
The year kicks off with a retreat at Camp Colman, located on the Olympic Peninsula.
“It’s the first time the students and mentors connect,” Larson said. “During the camp session, they make a bond. We have sharing circles and talent shows. We try to get as much interaction as possible.”
She said that the philosophy is student-centered. “It’s rare when you’re a young person, to have someone listen to what you want — instead of someone telling you what’s best for you,” she said. “How powerful is that? The students set their goals and they truly define what they want – and we get to support that.”
Kendra Steiner, director of development, believes that having adults who listen to students and cheer them on makes a powerful impact.
“Everyone wants someone who will be there for them, someone who is on your side, to help you process things, and someone to celebrate your successes as well,” she said.
Takehara said that the process benefits students and mentors alike. He served as a mentor for the first time last year.
“I learned so much,” Takehara said. “It was great to be able to see him grow, and wonderful to see the connections he made with others. There’s a lot of personal growth. You learn about yourself too, through the curriculum.”
This year, the workshops are all focused on building a sense of identity.
“We’re allowing both students and mentors to develop a stronger sense of self,” Larson said. “We want our students to recognize their own personal power.”
Steiner added hat mentors help create a safe space for students to explore their identity – and evolve in a supportive environment.
“When you support a student, you build community,” she said. “When you support the most vulnerable among us, you build a stronger community. Isn’t that what we all want, a community that’s diverse, and evolving and growing?”
For more information about becoming a mentor, making a donation or volunteering for Community for Youth, visit http://communityforyouth.org.