“I think when the youth are more successful and make the right choices, the community is stronger. The youth are the next generation,” said Chrissy Jones, BICC youth development director.
“If we can get a generation of youth who are confident and who stay away from drugs and alcohol and who believe they can have an impact on the world, then that will make our community better.”
Bridging the Gap was originally launched in 2006 before failing due to several personnel changes.
Jones, who recently revitalized BICC’s Inspiring Tomorrow’s Leaders Today program, was placed on the project. She said the challenge currently is finding mentors for the program.
“We have had some schools contact us in the last couple of months,” Jones said. “We know there are a lot of kids who need the program. The big push right now is trying to get enough adults who want to be committed and serve in this program.”
Youth ages 6-16 will be paired with an adult for a year through the BTG program. Adults must be 18 years or older. Mentor and mentee will meet once a week for one hour to engage in an activity of the mentee’s choice.
Jones said the yearlong commitment is an attempt to build a solid relationship between the mentee and mentor.
“The relationship can take a while to develop. Sometimes it can take three to six months before they feel comfortable with the relationship,” Jones said. “Most of the youth have not had a stable adult relationship. That is something they are lacking. In order to provide that, we need at least a yearlong commitment.”
Local institutions have gathered to back BICC’s latest community endeavor. Mentors can meet their mentees at pre-approved locations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland, the YMCA, several local schools and the local public library.
Activities can range from swimming or playing basketball at the YMCA to engaging in arts and crafts or reading in the library.
“It may also include helping with homework or a school project. We really want it to be driven by what the mentees are interested in. We want the mentors also to feel like they have something to share,” Jones said. “If they have a hobby, or if their work is something interesting, they can share with the youth.”
“Maybe together they can learn a new skill, like how to crochet,” she said. “Together they can dialogue what they are interested in so both of them feel they have a say.”
Every week, mentors and mentees will report to Jones. She will ask them how they feel the relationship is progressing. Jones will check in less as the relationship grows. Mentors will fill out a weekly form updating Jones on their weekly activity.
Jones said she will be available to support mentors and talk with both in case any issues develop.
Training will take place mid-summer for those interested in learning more about becoming a mentor.
“It will give them tools, tell them what to expect, inform them on resources available and alert them to situations which may come up,” Jones said. “The better I can prepare them, the more committed they will be to the program.”
Quarterly group events will allow mentors and mentees to interact with others in the program.
Jones said she does not believe there will be a shortage of youth interested in and suggested to the program. The problem is finding enough mentors to match the demand.
“Working with youth can give [mentors] a new perspective. The youth will come from different backgrounds, different family dynamics. It will give the mentor some new insight,” Jones said. “It also gives the mentor an opportunity to share their knowledge and passion — whether about their work or their hobbies.”
She said mentors will experience the gratification of knowing they are making a difference.
“Your one hour a week is really impacting this child’s life,” Jones said. “It builds your self-esteem too, knowing you have the power to make a difference.”
The impact in a child’s life can be far-reaching, according to Jones.
“Students who have a mentor are more in school. They are less likely to be involved in drugs or try alcohol at an early age. They show more academic success even beyond high school, and show commitment to go to college or a trade school,” Jones said. “I think it builds [the mentee’s] self-esteem and knowledge they are important. [A mentor] gives them someone who can encourage them and walk through the steps of what to do in their future.”
For more information on the program, contact Jones at BICC’s office by calling (423) 559-1112.