YMI is a volunteer mentoring program that pairs local students with caring adults. Founder Darren Heil shares how the organization has evolved over the years and why it is so vital to young people in our community.
What was the impetus to start YMI?
During my 15 years in service to youth development, I had the opportunity to work with teenagers in various capacities as a local youth pastor. I loved creating events for students to attend, being a positive adult role model in their lives, and creating opportunities for them to grow emotionally and spiritually. Throughout those years, I noticed that schools have a wonderful opportunity to impact the life of a teen [beyond academics.]
Because of this, I started Community First Initiative (now Youth Mentoring Initiative – YMI) in April of 2008. My desire is to bring the community around the school systems and create specialized mentoring programs to meet the critical needs of students. With limited budgets and small counseling departments, schools need volunteers from the community to get involved and to recognize the role they can play in the growth and development of students.
Our area seems to have parents who are very involved in their children’s lives. Do you really find that many students benefit from having a mentor?
Teachers will tell you that parental involvement tends to drop after 5th grade. It declines further as students get into high school. We do live in a community with an emphasis on sports. There is a lot of parental involvement in kids’ extracurricular activities, but not always in their lives. Back in 2013 an anonymous survey taken of 7th-12th grade students in the HSE school system (9,000+ students) found that 37% reported feeling hopeless, 35% were not engaged in school and 30% reported a poor sense of well-being. In my opinion, we do not have enough adult interaction with our youth based on these numbers. We don’t need more programs, we need more relationships. After the 2014-2015 school year, 100% of students who had a mentor reported feeling better about themselves. They also reported that they really valued having someone to talk to on a regular basis.
What schools do you partner with and what grades do you serve?
We are in six Fishers/Hamilton Southeastern Schools: Riverside and Sand Creek Intermediate (5th-6th), Fishers Junior High and Fall Creek Junior High (7th-8th), Fishers High School and Hamilton Southeastern High School (9th-12th). Our goal is to be in all four intermediate, four junior highs, and both high schools by 2020.
What kind of feedback do you get from mentors about their experience working with students?
Many mentors tell us they feel like they learn more from their mentee sometimes. They say they understand more and more the importance of adult interaction. They begin to see the “poverty” of relationships that so many young people are in.
If someone is interested in volunteering, or has a child they think would benefit from the program, what is their first step to finding out more?
If a parent would like to see their student have a mentor while in school, they can reach out to their child’s school counselor. If someone is interested in hearing more about becoming a YMI mentor, they can attend one of our next informational meetings. Check out our website under events (www.ymionline.org). Our philosophy is that any student benefits from having another caring adult in their lives. YMI mentoring is for any student – we do not use the term or view students as “at risk.” In reality, we all are at risk from making a bad choice. We are relational beings – we were designed to be in relationships. All that YMI is doing is building more relationships for our young people.