National Impact Community: Houston, TX
Relationships and Integrity
Change Happens, in collaboration with local partners, implements the Each One of Us Opens in a new tab mentoring program for approximately 82 boys and young men of color. One major goal of the program is to ensure mentees graduate high school, succeed in post-secondary, and achieve their personal goals. Speaking to the impact of the program Benson mentioned that this past year the program celebrated the achievements of 50 young men at a ceremony that included program alumni, the mentors and Mayor Jack Yates.
Other parts of the program include: Providing one-to-one mentoring to BYMOC to students ages 14-19; Building a network of collaboration and partners; and providing positive long-lasting and impactful relationships. “Getting to know the mentee's areas of interest can change their lives,” shared Benson. Since being named an MBK National Impact Community, the program has grown its reach and support of participants' educational goals, while addressing violence prevention through youth-adult partnerships. The program recruits and trains mentors from the community and local academic institutions that includes Texas Southern University and University of Houston. Benson shared that through a partnership with the University Houston, Change Happens has established a mentoring feeder program called UHD Mentoring and Me Opens in a new tab. Discussing their recruitment strategy, Benson noted that “we look for mentors that are consistent, reliable, hands on and have a great moral compass. I learned that just because you can't be a mentor doesn’t mean you can help with programming. We work with very established people and if they can’t commit, I recruit them for the engagement committee and help with planning initiatives.”
Honor, Respect, Chivalry, Academics, Attendance, No Excuses
Benson highlighted that the theme for the mentorship program is Honor, Respect, Chivalry, Academics, Attendance, No excuses. Starting with a cohort of 25 ninth-grade students, the Each One Of Us program paired mentees with trained and vetted mentors for one-to-one support. Boys and young men of color participating in the program attended weekly sessions conducted by the MBK Program Manager and other community vendors.
Foundational to their success were the core partners. Benson shared that the program needed “a steering committee of people who were highly invested and are not just trying to fill volunteer hours or do the community a favor. You need people who love to do this work, even if you have to wait to get quality people, you have to pick them one person at a time; like Jesus did the disciples.” He further elaborated the organization “focused on attracting partnerships from surrounding businesses and actively sharing insights so the community knows the work goals of the program.” In talking about the key to building reciprocal relationships, Benson shared “we ask and give at the same time, We can highlight you, give you something, and that way, in return you're invested, and bring awareness to the program.”
Speaking to the best practices of keeping youth engaged in the program Benson mentioned that “the thing that really helped our participants was the monthly dinners, they really went a long way. Mentors came together and would bring the kids food, and most of the time covered the cost to free up program funds.” Each dinner there were also vendors who would talk about various topics, but Benson shared that the “plain old sit down and dinner where they can just socialize, have fun, relieve stress…had the greatest influence on them.” Turkey Leg Hut, a famous Houston restaurant, was always a highlight for the youth.
Adjusting To The Pandemic
Benson shared that during the pandemic Change Happens wanted to check on the mental health of participants and develop virtual community huddles. During these sessions they would talk about mental and physical health. They discussed and debated the news and sports. Other sessions engaged participants in conversations that were relevant to their shared experiences. Benson noted many sessions focused on racism, and how the youth participants felt about the police. The huddles were “really a healing moment for the group, because people came in and talked about things they were going through and helped each other. It was very therapeutic.” In describing the shifts the program faced during COVID-19, Benson shared that “I had to transition my mindset from being hyper goal-oriented to focusing on fun and engagement. We brought in food, we hosted freestyles that challenged them to rap about positive topics with no cursing.”
Adapting To Youth Culture And Staying Visible
Reflecting on working with youth, Benson shared that “this has taught us how to be creative, get outside funding, and create initiatives in partnership with the kids.” Benson recommends involving “the younger generation at all levels. Media, technology, apps. Find out what they know, because no matter how young you think you are, there is a generation gap.” Staying in touch with the youth during the virtual shift of the pandemic was a struggle, but Benson noted that the program stayed visible and adapted their communication to the interests of their youth.
“We posted as much as we could, we shared and shared, only to realize they weren't on the same social media platforms. We mentioned Facebook Live to a class, and they laughed and called us ‘old folks,’ so we took to Instagram and found ways to connect through Tick Tock.” Benson noted that to stay coordinated they put together a spreadsheet with the participants' social media handles to make sure everyone stayed connected, communicated often and were able to catch up and build comradery.
Discussing the return to in-person, Benson noted that “incentives for participation are great, but more than anything you really have to establish visibility in the school. You can’t rely on programming from a distance, you have to set up shop at school.. a classroom or office space or even a small area designated for the MBK program.” In addition Benson emphasized the need for a strong social media presence to celebrate success. Emphasizing the need for sharing program outcomes to rally support, Benson shared that the program tried its best to “blow everything up, if a kid had success, blow it up. If the school had any success, whether small or great, take it and blow it completely up. It may seem small to you, but it captures what mentoring is all about, the essence of what we do and that brings supporters.