REACH AND RISE

MARQUETTE — A mentor might not completely turn around a child’s life, but even getting a smile in an otherwise dreary day is worthwhile.

It’s always good to keep that in mind, but every January has a particularly special meaning for mentoring.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of National Mentoring Month’s launch in 2002, according to the National Mentoring Partnership. Each January has served as an annual kickoff of the widespread movement to connect more of the nation’s young people with caring adult mentors.

The YMCA of Marquette County already has a mentoring program in place: Reach & Rise. It’s a free, one-to-one program that matches an adult, who undergoes special training and is age 21 or older, with a young person. They meet once a week for one to three hours, with each match lasting at least a year.

Melissa DeMarse is the Reach & Rise leader for the one-to-one program.

Having a positive relationship outside a family and getting a different view of the world is healthy for youths, DeMarse said.

“This is somebody that can give you a different perspective on things and somebody that can introduce you to the community,” DeMarse said. “I think any time someone gives time and attention to a youth for the purpose of standing by them and rooting for their success, I think that that is priceless.”

The mentors, having had more life experiences than the youngsters, can share their insights, she said.

And that’s something a textbook — which doesn’t typically involve human interaction — can’t always provide.

“We just don’t think there’s anything comparable to that,” DeMarse said of the adult-youth mentor relationship.

Kelsey Roy, 27, was matched with her youth, a 12-year-old girl, just late last year.

They take part in many typical activities associated with youngsters: art, going to the beach, journaling and crafts.

And like many kids, ice cream is a preferred treat.

“A favorite spot is Jilbert’s, even in the cold winter months,” Roy said.

Roy acknowledged being nervous about being able to make time to fulfill her weekly commitment. However, that hasn’t been an issue, and that time is something to which she looks forward.

“I enjoy it just as much as she does,” Roy said.

One event that surely will bring a lot of anticipation is Roy’s upcoming wedding, and her match will be part of the ceremony.

“It’s been really an incredible bond,” Roy said.

Roy used to work at the YMCA, but felt she could give more, especially to someone in middle school when kids are trying to find themselves.

“You need advice, but it’s hard to ask sometimes,” Roy said.

Her match saw the benefits of the Reach & Rise program from other kids at school and thought it would be a fun experience for her too, she said.

“I ultimately wanted to make a difference,” Roy said.

Kris Wierenga, 30, takes part in a lot of outdoors activities with his match, a 13-year-old boy. Wierenga said the two, who have been matched for only a few years, go on a lot of hikes, plus they ride bicycles and go rock climbing.

Occasionally, though, they will participate in more sedentary activities.

“Sometimes we just sit around and play board games and such,” Wierenga said.

His becoming a mentor sprang from a desire to do for the boy what people in his life have done for him.

“I felt like I really benefit from the male and female leadership in my life, and it’s a mutually beneficial scenario where he can learn some things from me and I can learn some things from him,” Wierenga said.

The relationship continues to grow regardless of whether they climb a mountain or play Monopoly.

Wierenga said they’re developing cues and the ability to communicate with each other, and just like most kids, the boy has questions about life as well as natural curiosities.

“We’re coming along and developing a trust and friendship as well,” Wierenga said.

His youth comes from a unique situation and has been dealt a “troublesome hand in life,” but has done a great job in overcoming that and becoming a great young man, he said.

“You wouldn’t think he’s had any misfortune in his life because he’s a grateful kid,” Wierenga said.

A new group mentoring program at the YMCA matches two adult mentors with a group of four to six youths. The group will meet once a week for two hours to discuss relevant topics. The problem cycle runs for eight weeks in the summer and 16 weeks during the fall and spring.

Jasmin Roden is the leader of the group program, which is to begin at the end of February.

After receiving referrals, she builds the group to what the needs are.

“Some of the topics we will be discussing will be self-esteem and self-concepts,” said Roden, with the participants talking about things like peer relationships and family conflicts.

Regardless of whether youths are mentored individually or in groups, DeMarse said they need to know someone’s listening to them.

“It’s critical, I think, to career success, to educational success, to have a sense of self, to be able to manage emotions, to know that you have a support system and to know how to manage relationships and communicate,” DeMarse said. “Ask for what you need and want, and set boundaries.”

For more information on being a Reach & Rise mentor, contact DeMarse at 906-227-9622 or midemarse@ymcamqt.org, or visit ymcamqt.org.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.