Mentoring matters

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Cloronda Morgan was having trouble with her teenage son, so she asked Al Stinson, a Youth Guidance counselor at Manley Career Academy High School, for help.

“Freshman year his attitude shifted. He was out of control,” said Morgan, a security guard at Manley and single mother of three. “I came to work one morning in tears. The disrespect was just too much. I needed help. ”

Stinson intervened that day, resulting in an apology to mom and the family’s introduction to the Becoming A Man (B.A.M.) program.

Two years later, Morgan says her son is much more respectful and calm – and he’s an honor roll student with a 3.6 GPA.

Stinson’s open and direct approach has worked with many other students.

A West Side native familiar with the urban realities his students face, Stinson says the issues he sees each day can range from disrespect for peers, school administrators and school property to fighting, violent outbursts and emotional distress.

Last school year alone, six of his B.A.M. students were shot (all survived).

“Parents are a serious part of this,” Stinson said. “They have to reinforce at home what we are teaching these young men if it’s going to really work.”

Parents are routinely invited to special family engagement events and Youth Guidance orientations to learn strategies for helping their children succeed; an orientation was held earlier this month at Frederick Douglass Academy High School.

The agency will host its 22nd annual parent leadership conference in January.

To date, more than 75 Chicago area schools are receiving some form of Youth Guidance programming, which includes B.A.M., Working On Womanhood (W.O.W), community and after-school programs, parent and family engagement, and Project Prepare, the agency’s workforce development program.

The 90-year-old nonprofit, which has provided services within Chicago Public Schools for decades, also collaborates regularly with other community groups, such as Blocks Together, the Chicago GEAR UP Alliance and The Federation for Community Schools. Student participants are roughly 65 percent African American and 33 percent Hispanic – diversity also reflected in counseling and operational staff.

Youth Guidance programs ultimately enhance a school’s capacity to meet the needs of students, particularly when counselors or social workers are limited or nonexistent.

The impact is palpable when you speak with those directly touched by the agency’s outreach.

When asked what her alternatives would have been without the B.A.M. program, Morgan takes a long pause and says: “I think that honestly, I would have lost my son. He would have been a victim of these streets, selling drugs or in jail.

“I’m a strong woman and good mother, but I’m not a man. I don’t know how to be a man. So I will always be grateful for what B.A.M. stepped in and did for us … for all the boys at Manley … especially my son.”

Youth Guidance’s programming touches more than 14,000 students city-wide, including at Douglass and Ella Flagg Young School in Austin.

In particular, Youth Guidance’s B.A.M program uses highly trained male mentors and counselors to reach young men of color, while the agency’s Working on Womanhood (W.O.W.) program serves young women.

Developed by Youth Guidance at Clemente High School in 2001, B.A.M. offers both social and emotional support for students.

In “B.A.M. circles,” students bring forward their feelings and concerns and receive group encouragement in a safe, judgment-free space. What started with only a handful of students in one school more than a decade ago has now expanded to serving 2,000 young men in more than 40 Chicago schools.

“It’s hard to become something you never see,” Stinson said. “It’s about modeling. A lot of my students walk into the program defining manhood as ‘money, cars and h–s’.

“In the B.A.M. program, they learn about accountability, integrity, honesty, and self-discipline – and how that makes you a man. We help them understand why those values matter, and the consequences in life when they don’t. ”

Students with demonstrated risk factors such as low school attendance, poor academic performance or tendencies toward disruptive or violent behavior are recommended for voluntary, weekly participation in the B.A.M. program.

In addition to counseling support, they also attend sporting events, field trips and college tours throughout the year.  Each outing offers a new, positive experience and helps students visualize a brighter future.

For more information, to donate or to volunteer, call (312) 253-4900 or visit Youth Guidance’s web site

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