A man and a boy play basketball as the sun sets
Mentoring often involves getting together to talk and do fun activities like getting an ice cream cone, doing a craft or playing basketball in the park.

The Quick Version

Richland County has multiple youth mentorship programs. Some serve youth facing specific challenges and employ trained professionals. Others are more generalized, serving any child who might benefit from a positive adult role model. Mid-Ohio Youth Mentoring and the Richland County Juvenile Court are both seeking volunteer mentors.

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MANSFIELD — Did you know you can make a positive impact on a child’s future with just four hours a month?

Research has shown that children benefit from the consistent presence of supportive adults. Richland County is home to various youth mentoring programs, which match local kids with positive adult role models.

Some are currently accepting mentees and volunteer mentors.

Mentoring has been shown to improve self-esteem, academic achievement and peer relationships. It has also been linked to reduced drug use, aggression, depressive symptoms and delinquency.

“We have more than 100 children actively waiting for mentors within our programs.”

Jim Nicholson, executive director of Mid-Ohio YOuth Mentoring

Many youth mentorship programs don’t require a special skillset or specific training. Often, being a mentor simply means being consistent, compassionate and a good listener.

We’ve compiled a list of youth mentoring programs, along with some basic information about each one.

Mid-Ohio Youth Mentoring

Mid-Ohio Youth Mentoring, formerly known as Big Brothers Big Sisters, has connected mentors and mentees in the area for more than 40 years. The program currently matches children ages 5 through 16 with adult mentors through its community-based program.

MOYM also pairs teens with younger mentees through its High School Bigs Mentoring programs at Galion, Shelby, Buckeye Central and the Friendly House.

The program is currently accepting both mentors and mentees.

For more information about volunteering or signing up a child, visit MidOhioYouthMentoring.com.

Who does Mid-Ohio Youth Mentoring serve?

MOYM is open to both boys and girls who would benefit from a positive role model in their life. “Littles” come from a variety of home environments and family backgrounds, socio-economic levels and ethnic backgrounds. MOYM is open to youngsters in Richland, Crawford and Ashland counties.

What qualities does MOYM look for in a mentor?

“We look for a mentor to be empathetic, genuine and truly be signing up with the best interest of their future mentee in their hearts and minds,” said executive director Jim Nicholson. “Mentors should be honest, good listeners, and have positive attitudes.”

MOYM encourages mentor-mentee pairings to focus on friendship and seek out free or low-cost activities. 

How great is your need for mentors at this time?

Nicholson described the program’s need for mentors as “extreme.”

“We have more than 100 children actively waiting for mentors within our programs,” he said.

The need for male mentors is especially prevalent.

What are your requirements for being a mentor?

Mentors need to be 18 years of age or older and have four hours per month to commit to working with a child for one calendar year. Mentors complete a screening process that includes a home assessment, multi-layered background check and in-person interview.

What do you believe are the benefits of being a mentor or mentee?

“In a nutshell, mentors get an opportunity to give back to their community by sharing their wisdom, time and talents,” Nicholson said. “Mentors often report a sense of fulfillment and personal growth as they see the positive impact of their efforts and encouragement.

“Mentors in our program often gain a lifelong friend from their involvement with Mid-Ohio Youth Mentoring.

“On the other hand, Mentees benefit from the knowledge, guidance, encouragement, support and opportunities offered to them via the mentoring relationship and experience.

“The mentees gain insight about how to navigate challenges, set goals and make decisions. The relationship grows and the journey can be rewarding for both mentor and mentee.”

What kind of support do you provide your mentors and mentees?

MOYM hosts large group activities free for its matches throughout the year, including a summer picnic and bowling day.

MOYM also has match support specialists who check in regularly with mentors and mentees and their families. These specialists can also offer guidance as needed on handling any difficult situations that arise.

Richland County Juvenile Court

The Richland County Juvenile Court founded its Advocate, Intervene and Mentor (AIM) program for young men on probation in the summer of 2021.

“One of the things the court was looking at at that time was the correlation between the lack of attention that children receive and the incidence of juvenile delinquency,” Judge Steve McKinley said.

The goal of the program is to provide young men with positive role models, McKinley said. Mentors encourage the students to attend and do their best in school, respect others and oftentimes to get a job.

Kenneth Johnson oversees the program as the court’s director of mentoring and assessment.

“He’s done a great job developing relationships with youth, helping them stay out of trouble, getting productive and doing better things,” McKinley said.

AIM is only open to young men already involved with the juvenile justice system. For more information about volunteering, contact Johnson at 419-774-6387.

Who does AIM serve?

AIM serves young men on probation with the Richland County Juvenile Court. Last year, AIM provided mentorship to 40 boys. There are currently 18 youngsters in the program.

Are you currently accepting mentors?

There are currently nine mentors involved in the program, including Johnson.

“We’re always seeking additional mentors. We always need more help,” Johnson said. “Ideally, it would be great to have one kid to one mentor and give them all the hours we can take.”

What kind of mentors are you looking for?

Johnson said mentors should have a strong interest in positive youth development and ideally, a knowledge of community resources. Mentors should be patient, responsible, organized, flexible, motivated and professional.

They should also be good communicators with availability to meet with their mentee on nights and weekends.

What are your requirements for being a mentor?

Mentors are asked to commit to the program for one year and meet with their mentees for about 6 to 10 hours a week.

“The youth have had people in and out of their lives many times, which often leads to the dysfunction,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to create some stability.”

Mentors must be able to pass a background check.

What do you believe the benefits are to mentors and mentees?

Johnson said he’s seen improvement in AIM participants’ school attendance and grades, social skills and communication.

It also gives young men the chance to learn about new experiences and opportunities in the community.

“Mentoring itself is very rewarding,” Johnson said. “It is very time consuming too, so I always tell people, make sure you have time.

“Once you have the trust of that youth, they’re going to lean on you at lot.”

What kind of support do you provide your mentees and mentors?

Mentors are paid through the North End Community Improvement Collaborative‘s (NECIC) staffing agency.

“They are volunteers through the court but they are compensated through a contract that we have with NECIC,” Johnson said.

Mentors also receive training from the court and a membership to the YMCA.

Mentees receive additional supportive services through the Richland County Juvenile Court.

Community Action for Capable Youth (CACY)

Community Action for Capable Youth (CACY) is a nonprofit community coalition. CACY was founded in 1978 to address youth use of drugs and alcohol.

Today, CACY’s mission is to provide education to prevent substance abuse, bullying, problem gambling and suicide in youth and promote a safe and healthy community for all ages. CACY also provides in-school programming and support and resources for parents.

CACY has offered a free girls mentoring program since 2013. For information on how to volunteer or enroll, please visit CACY’s website or email Tracee Anderson at andersont@cacyohio.org.

Who does CACY Girls serve?

CACY Girls program is open to girls age 10 to 18 who reside in Richland County.

Mentees should be willing to try new things and set regular and consistent appointments with a mentor.

“We meet around their schedule so they can participate in other activities,” said Tracee Anderson, CACY’s fiscal and human resources administrator. “Our goal is to support.”

Participants are often referred to the program due to mental health concerns, risky behaviors or a need for additional support and independent living skills.

However, Anderson said the program is open to any girl who meets the age and residency requirements.

Are you currently accepting mentees or mentors?

CACY Girls accepts mentees year-round and there are currently openings.

Unlike many community mentorship programs, CACY Girls does not utilize volunteer mentors. All of the mentors are prevention educators employed by CACY.

Nevertheless, there are still ways the community can support the program. CACY Girls’ monthly meeting often features a speaker who shares a hobby, life skill or other activity with mentees.

What kind of support does CACY Girls provide mentees?

CACY provides all supplies and transportation to and from individual and group mentoring sessions.

Participants meet one-on-one with a mentor at least twice each month, normally for about two hours.

Mentees also participate in monthly group sessions focused on various topics.

Past group sessions have focused on topics like nutrition, cooking on a budget, self-esteem, healthy decision-making, hygiene and self care, personal safety, hygiene and self care, earth stewardship, volunteering, taking care of pets, cultural competency, money management, physical fitness, stress management and coping skills and CPR.

My Brother’s Keeper

My Brother’s Keeper was established in 2014 under President Barack Obama and came to Mansfield in 2019. Mentorship is one component of My Brother’s Keeper, which seeks to unleash the power of communities to improve real life outcomes for boys and young men of color.

The local My Brother’s Keeper chapter is run by Richland County Children’s Services and the North End Community Improvement Collaborative (NECIC).

NECIC Executive Director Deanna West-Torrence said the program is not actively accepting mentors or mentees at this time.

“We’re reorganizing our youth work now that we have reached some new violence prevention funding,” she said.

Staff reporter at Richland Source since 2019. I focus on education, housing and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. Got a tip? Email me at katie@richlandsource.com.