A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Mentoring Plus provides hope for hopeless through coaching for at-risk teens; special event on Friday

By Maridith Yahl
NKyTribune reporter

Sowing seeds of hope for the hopeless is how Judge Mick Foellger, chairman of the board of Mentoring Plus, describes what staff and volunteers give the youth in their program.

We “deal with the hopeless. They think they have no future and our job is to convince them otherwise, that they’re worth something.”

Retired juvenile and family court Judge Foellger continues his support for youth and families by advocating for Mentoring Plus. Talking about the program was easy for him. His compassion and genuine concern for at-risk youth is felt through his words, voice, and facial expressions.

Mentoring Plus helps the highest at-risk youth ages 13-18 in Northern Kentucky. It was formed in 2009, committed to establishing local partnerships that serve Northern Kentucky area teens and their families, promoting healing, cultivating personal growth and encouraging healthy and productive community involvement.

The youth are shown a new path with the help of life coaches and case managers, trying to keep them in school and out of trouble.

“A lot of the kids don’t know any different. They don’t know all the things that they should try to achieve in life because their example at home is someone who is not achieving, and has no desire to achieve, isn’t telling them they should go out and try to achieve things,” Bill Cole, board member and former life coach, explains.

“When they’re vulnerable, they get shut down and they’re punished in many ways for it. So what we’re really asking for them [is] to be vulnerable, with someone when they have had an entire lifetime of being told that’s not what you can do,” says Cole about his experiences as a life coach.

Youth usually find their way to Mentoring Plus by a referral from a school counselor, but Robin Anderson, program director, says kids arrive there many ways, including parent referrals. One particular evening, a youth showed up on his own.

Together in the kitchen, the group prays before dinner. This is when life coaches really use their listening skills.

“The kids do all the talking because someone is listening to them,” remarks Judge Foellger. “This is what changes kids. If someone who believes in you, trusts you and is there for you to listen to you, that makes all the difference.”

Cole adds, “That family style dinner was great. They don’t have that, a time to sit down and have a meal with someone who wants to talk to them.”

After a shared meal, it’s time for homework.

Youth have their own workspace, complete with pictures, poems, or any other personal object someone might have on their desk. Life coaches help with homework or in subjects they’re struggling in at school. It’s a great opportunity for the youth to open up with their life coach, gain confidence and feel secure.

An evening of hard work is rewarded with fun. Playing basketball in the gym is a popular pastime. Other activities are offered in three, about to be renovated, game and craft rooms.

The program ends with a lesson about life or skills. Alcohol and drug abuse, anger management, sex education, and job interview skills are just a few of the many topics the teens learn about.

Programs here are not stagnant. Mentoring Plus is “always adapting to meet needs, we have to be ready to punt and ready to say, ok this is not working the way it used to, and we need to come up with something. Or this part of the curriculum is really outdated and we need to do something different,” says Anderson.

Volunteer life coaches empower youth, showing them love and giving stability. Bill described it as he was the rock for his youth “Joe” (not his real name). Joe knew he could answer questions and talk without fear of Bill getting involved, “sometimes he just wanted to tell me things and I could respect that,” says Bill.

Bill didn’t want to be, “just that one good thing in the kid’s life. It didn’t make sense to me if I was just going to be three good hours out of an entire week of crap,” says Bill.

“One of the great things about Mentoring Plus is that they have this holistic approach where they have case managers, and they have all these emergency services and all this other support system around them. All those different parts are really independent. I could be his life coach, I could just be his friend,” Bill says, almost relieved.

It took pressure off him to know the youth are well supported by professionals.

The program has a capacity of 40 but currently, there are 12 youth on the waiting list to be matched with a life coach. Life coaches volunteer three hours a week for a year.

When Judge Foellger was asked about the requirements, “anyone with two ears,” he says as he smiles. “Somebody that cares about them, that’s what a mentor is.”

Anderson says, they are more than just a kid who needs help, they’re family.

Seeds of Hope will honor Jack Moreland. (All photos provided)

“Once they’re our kids they never stop being our kids. To me, how is that not the best part of this job.”

Executive director of Mentoring Plus is Christopher Sanders.

To learn more about being a life coach or volunteering in any area of expertise you can offer, click here for information or call Laura Gordan at 859.462.4152.

On April 12, the organization will hold its 9th Annual Seeds of Hope event honoring Jack Moreland, now of Southbank Partners, at the Newport Syndicate. It will include dinner and an evening of music, games and silent auctions. It starts at 6 p.m.

To purchase tickets, click here.

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