In Chicago, during the month of February, the mentoring group I founded, Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program we celebrate “Men’s Month.” We started our men’s month initiative 4 years ago, because too many of our girls do not have positive male role models in their daily lives, and we wanted to provide ways for girls to interact with positive men in their communities. To that end, our girls participate in open forums with men within our network of volunteers to learn about their personal, professional, and childhood experiences. And, we host a non-traditional Daddy Daughter Dance where every girl, regardless if her dad is in her life or not, she’s represented and supported by a “volunteer dad” for that day. (Click here for more pictures).
So, as we celebrate the powerful men who work to support our youth this month, we’d like to highlight Stephen Powell the Executive Director of Mentoring USA in New York as one of our Social Service Samurai. Stephen was actually one of the first participants in our Daddy Daughter Dance! Mentoring USA’s mission is to create positive and supportive mentor relationships for youth ages 7-21, through a structured site-based model, and has provided mentors for more than 5,000 children since its inception and serves youth nationally and internationally. Stephen has been doing awesome work across the country to increase the presence of youth mentoring work, and recruit more males to mentor. Stephen has also been a tremendous support for my work with Polished Pebbles, and provided mentoring to me as a mentoring professional.
1) How did you get involved in mentoring?
Mentoring has always been in my DNA. I lost my father at the age of 5, and was then raised by a single mother. When I got into high school, I then engaged in informal mentoring relationship with my track coach. After being a mentee, I feel like my commitment to mentoring our youth is a way that I’m giving back to those who gave to me. In my fraternity in college I led our mentoring service as director of community service. During summer of 1993, I had the opportunity to have all of my fraternity brothers to serve as volunteers, and as a result of that we created a partnership with Boys and Girls Club. Later in my career, I started working at Mentoring USA in 2005, and I felt like God connected me to my life mission. I currently serve as the Executive Director of Mentoring USA.
2) What does your work consist of as Executive Director at Mentoring USA?
Fundraising, national and local expansion, donor cultivation, program management, and working with corporate partners are many of my primary responsibilities. At times, I’m requested to give many key-note addresses and inspiring messages across the country. In the last couple of years we’ve been able to expand in international markets. It’s been an exciting ride. We also have an Italian affiliate and we have an affiliate in Morocco that I assist in managing. As we’re investing in our kids we should also be investing in them to be global competitors. They need to have as much international interaction, access, and opportunity as possible. This will help them in realizing the world is not as small as they think. Essentially as mentors or mentoring organizations we have to be the bridges and fill the gaps. The world they are coming into is very technology driven. Even within the context of mentoring programs, we are looking to develop more rigorous STEM activities and a focus on financial education, diversity, tolerance, healthy lifestyles, and self-esteem. While focus is always on relationship with mentor and mentee, we also make sure we focus on individuals.
Polished Pebbles (PP) is one of the main reasons why we’ve been able to expand our program. I met Kelly in 2009 in Atlanta working with Susan Taylor in a small group. Shortly after Kelly started PP we were expanding our national relationship with Bloomingdale’s. Bloomingdale’s was starting a fashionable fundraiser. We did something with Polished Pebbles where they had their girls come into the stores and the executives fell in love with them. They wanted to mentor them. Two weeks later we co-trained the mentors, and that’s what really caused our national expansion with Bloomingdale’s. It’s all what happened with Polished Pebbles.
3) What do you like best about working with Mentoring USA?
On any given day you can come in here with your tank empty, but you really never leave with your tank empty. There’s always a form of inspiration. Essentially in order to do this work effectively you have to know when to jump into mentee role and when to play mentor role.
4) Describe your thoughts on the role of male mentors in our communities.
There’s simply not enough. And there are seen and unseen barriers for why we don’t have mentors. When I talk about the corporate mentoring piece, even with rigorous recruitment, it yields very little in the space around male mentors. Developed male mentoring initiative, “MEN-TOUR”, focused on male mentor recruitment. Men communicate differently and we also carry our luggage differently, in terms of past pain and not being able to let that pain go. We knew we needed to create a space where men could just be so they could be there for their families and community. There’s always a faith-based institution in these places, so the idea around training is that they understand that their job is not to convert people but to stand in the gap for those who are underserved or in the need of guidance. (Info on program here: http://www.mentoringusa.org/news_and_events/details/2013-01-mentoring-usa-announces-program-expansion-into-chicag) I think this is a critical time now. The President is getting ready to launch “My Brother’s Keepers. It’s timely. Everyone of color is under assault all over the country. Right now I think we’re standing down. But we need to stand up and contribute to policy. We need to change school culture and community culture.
5) In honor of Men’s Month–What would be your message to other males who are interested in mentoring?
Get in. We need you. There’s a space for you, and I feel like because everyone on this planet needs a mentor. We all have something to give, regardless of what we think. We don’t need permission to be great; we just need opportunity and access. Taking that step first is unlocking the greatness within, but you gotta take that step.