Torchlight Youth Mentoring Alliance Programs Provide Needs for Many
Students in the E-CITY program.
By Deanna Adams
A year ago, the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization changed names and added more programs to their roster. Their mission has always been to foster the development of youth and help them reach their greatest potential as responsible, adaptable and caring adults. The agency expanded to meet the ever-growing needs within the community, which helps more than 500 children in Ashtabula, Lake and Geauga counties.
Many are familiar with Torchlight Youth Mentoring Alliance for its traditional one-on-one mentoring, but other programs include the Foster Care Transition Program, After-School program, and E-CITY (Entrepreneurship: Connecting, Inspiring and Teaching Youth).
Foster Care Transition Program
This is a mentoring opportunity in which adults volunteer every other week for two hours to provide consistency, guidance and hope to young people living in Lake County and Geauga County group foster homes. The initiative is to help youth who are approaching their transition to independence, or those who have recently aged out of foster care. Volunteers help the teens understand and build on life skills, or sometimes simply spend time with them. Activities include learning about science, math, and engineering, as well as exploring their creative side with a number of various projects.
As foster care program manager, Lauren Welch oversees the services, working with the volunteers and teens living in group homes in Painesville, Chardon and Bedford. “We try to bring in people who can relate to the special situations of foster kids and touch on their individual needs,” says Welch, who has been with Torchlight for a year after working with children’s services prior. All Torchlight directors offer training, and the mentors span the gamut. “We have teachers, social workers, even lawyers and an insurance agent as mentors. These are people who want to make a difference, and in this program, they like the fact they can mentor in groups so they can touch more lives at a time.”
And even in the midst of a pandemic, these dedicated directors and volunteers found ways to stay connected.
“Normally, we have group meetings on Saturdays at Lakeland Community College, or sometimes off grounds,” Welch says. “Currently, with the pandemic, we are staying connected through Zoom, which is working out okay, although everyone is anxious to see each other in person again.
“And even now, we are actively seeking more mentors and continuing to reach out to more foster youth to grow the program.”
This popular program, now in its 14th year, is perfect for high school and college students. “This is especially good for those students who are thinking of a career along the lines of psychology or teaching. Or teens who don’t have a sibling and like children.”
Elementary students enjoy activities that are fun, but also educational, with the mentors interacting with them in their school environment. They provide one-on-one tutoring, work on crafts or coloring or games.
That’s how it usually goes.
“During the pandemic, the real challenge for me has been creating and converting activities we normally do and produce a virtual-friendly curriculum,” says coordinator Diane Marjenin. “We need to give them options of things they can do at home. We’ve come up with things like the scientific study of bird-watching, and will do something for Earth Day since it’s the 50th anniversary. [Editor's Note: Earth Day was April 22, after this article was submitted.]
Marjenin has been with the Torchlight agency for 14 years, and with the after-school program the past five. She heads the program in three area schools: Jefferson Elementary in Eastlake, the Jordak Elementary in Middlefield, and the Superior Intermediate School in Ashtabula. She emphasizes that children do not have contact outside the program, that she is the vehicle to interact among them. “The kids really benefit from the special attention because their mentors listen to them,” Marjenin says. “The older students do get community service hours, but most clearly don’t do it for that reason. I’m always impressed by the dedication of these volunteers, and their willingness to stick to it throughout the school year.”
She encourages anyone interested in next year’s program to contact her now and fill out an application. “There’s a process involved before a mentor can begin. We need references, time to interview and train. So we encourage those interested to get on board now.”
The E-CITY (Entrepreneurship: Connecting, Inspiring, Teaching, Youth) program is a collaborative 70-hour, semester-long class that teaches entrepreneurial, business and life skills to high school students. It is currently available to students at Harvey High School. The students work on a weekly basis for a semester, developing a product of their own inspiration.
“I liken it to the Shark Tank show,” says Tia Lawrence, who is Torchlight's director of programs, and oversees E-CITY. “The students must come up with a business product, design it, and put together a marketing strategy along with a 60-second commercial.”
She adds that mentors provide guidance, feedback, and support to the students, and this year, one student, Jaylen Fourqurean, became one of 20 finalists for the national Video Pitch Competition. “He invented Jay’s Tray’s, which are removable trays you can stick in your car’s cup holder for long trips,” Lawrence explains.
However, again, the pandemic put a halt to this event, previously scheduled for April 1. The status of this competition is still uncertain.
“The best part of this program,” Lawrence adds, “is that, along with college credit, the students learn how to give presentations that can benefit them throughout their careers.
During the pandemic, Torchlight remains open to accepting mentors for all these programs. “There truly is a need for more mentors throughout the Lake/Geauga/Ashtabula areas,” says Torchlight community relations coordinator, Donna Bares.
If you, or someone you know, is interested in becoming involved, see, www.torchlightyouthmentoring.org. or call 440-352-2526.