Youth Empowerment Program delivers through mentorship

October 05 at 9:40 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

YEP mentor John Emery positively affects the lives of local youths.
YEP mentor John Emery positively affects the lives of local youths.
For someone to reach their fullest potential, sometimes it takes just a little bit of steering in the right direction.

Providing that kind of guidance for young people in St. Charles Parish is the goal of the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) through its Community Based Prevention mentoring program.

The program provides mentorship to children ages 8-16 who are considered at-risk. Participants receive mentoring, tutoring, counseling and other wrap-around services intended to help them succeed at home, school and their communities. It is designed to reach youth early and prevent them from becoming involved later on with the juvenile justice system.

Many youths who are part of the mentoring effort are referred by the court system’s FINS (families in need of services) assistance program.

Such was the case for the son of Katina, a St. Charles Parish mother who says the program has greatly impacted her son’s life. (her last name is not stated as her son is part of the FINS program and their identities cannot be revealed.)  He was referred to the program as a 13-year-old in October of last year after he had been involved in a fight, and she said the attention he has received since that time has been “a blessing.”

“The mentoring group he’s been a part of is very, very good,” she said. “It got him to think before he acted. They want to intervene in the lives of these kids before they might go on to make a mistake that could affect the rest of their lives.”

She said he didn’t know what to expect from the program at first, but he began to really take to it during the first few meetings.

“They meet up twice a week with kids their own age and talk about everything, what’s going on,” she said. “It’s really helped him.”

His mentor with YEP is John Emery, a longtime youth advocate who also works as a substitute teacher and football coach in St. Charles Parish.

“He always looks forward to spending time with Mr. John. He’s like a big brother to him,” Katina said.

That program is a big part of YEP, a partner of United Way of St. Charles. YEP director of programs Darren McCall said the assistance of United Way has helped YEP expand its efforts to help children by allowing it to offer a deeper and more engaging set of activities, like field trips or meal outings. One such activity has been what has become one of the highlights of each summer for YEP, a trip in which the mentors and mentorees travel together on a charter bus for a water park outing, with each mentoree encouraged to invite members of their family to tag along.

“That’s a way to get the entire family in their positive development,” McCall said. “It’s those kinds of things. A trip out of town, three meals on the road … it might not be financially possible for a family in some cases. Those resources (United Way helps provide) are so helpful in connecting kids with the new and exciting things we try to expose them to.

During the summer, the activities take on some added importance.

“It allows to add some structure at a time where kids’ schedules are free,” McCall said, adding the funding from United Way provides stability their group can plan around. “It’s extremely rewarding to see so many of these kids realize that if their grades are slipping, or they’re having issues at school, they can reach out to a mentor because they know they can count on them.”

View other articles written Ryan Arena

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