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Today's Family Magazine

Torchlight Youth Mentoring Alliance adds fuel to fire kindled by forerunner

Mar 25, 2019 06:09PM

Students in the ECITY program.

By Nina Polien Light
Mentors and Mentees replace Bigs and Littles and programming now extends beyond traditional one-on-one mentoring, but the core mission of the group formerly known as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Ohio remains: to foster the development of youth to reach their highest potential as responsible, adaptable and caring adults.

Under its new moniker, Torchlight Youth Mentoring Alliance, the organization pledges to continue the type of BBBS adult-child mentorship programs that have benefited area youngsters for decades.  It will also expand offerings to provide guidance and support to a wider cross-section of children, including those transitioning from foster care to independence.

“We think what Big Brothers Big Sisters does is great and we will continue to do matching (pairing adult mentors with children), but we do all these other things, too,” says Tim Kehres, executive director of the organization that helps 300-350 children annually.  “Our ECITY program at Harvey High School doesn’t fit (the BBBS) model. Our After School program and new Foster Care Transition program don’t fit that model.  We are committed to one-on-one mentoring, but also to serve youth in different types of relationships that work for kids.”

A perception that BBBS only assists troubled children also contributed to the decision to break from the national organization.  Some parents were not enrolling their children because of this preconceived notion, even though the youngsters would benefit from having a mentor, Kehres explains.  It was also challenging to attract adult volunteers, who might be reluctant to work one-on-one with troubled youngsters.

“Now it’s easier to recruit volunteers because we have a menu of options,” he says.

Among those volunteer options is working with students at Painesville’s Harvey High School in the semester-long program, ECITY (Entrepreneurship: Connecting, Inspiring and Teaching Youth). The Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce helps Torchlight recruit area business leaders, who visit classes weekly to help students develop business plans and take their product or service to competition.  In the last decade, a Harvey student has placed first or second all but one year at the Cleveland-area contest.  After advancing to the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship competition, one student placed second for creating and marketing wallets made with duct tape.

After School, begun in 1996, pairs volunteer high school students with elementary school pupils weekly for two hours during the academic year. The mentorship program benefits both younger and older children, but doesn’t fit the national BBBS model.

Kehres says the organization is excited about its foster care programs.  In Group Foster Home Mentoring, adults volunteer together every other week for two hours to provide consistency, guidance and hope to young people living in Lake and Geauga County group foster homes.  The Lake County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board helps fund the Foster Care Transition Program, Torchlight’s initiative to help youth who are approaching their transition to independence as well as young adults who have recently aged out of foster care.

“Volunteers help them understand financial literacy or sometimes just hang out to play games,” Kehres says. “For some of these young people, it’s the first time they have a non-institutional relationship with an adult.  The volunteers are just there to be friends.”

When considering a new name, the board thought about the torches that first illuminated dark streets nightly.  Torches were followed by gaslights and then pilot lights.  Each progression further brightened cities, thus contributing to the vibrancy of the community.

“Like the lamplighters who brought light to darkness our passion is grounded in decades of providing personal guidance,” the group says in a vision statement on its website.  “We know that mentoring has a profound impact on each individual and it is our job to ignite the possibilities within the youth we serve.  And maybe one day, they will become lamplighters themselves.”

For more information, call 440-352-2526 or visit