Mentorship program pairs seniors with at-risk youth

Joseph Lyons

Joseph Lyons

What if teenagers struggling with behavioral, emotional, mental and abuse issues could be mentored, one-on-one, by trained and caring senior citizens?

That kind of senior/youth mentoring concept is the basis for a new program that Joseph Lyons, director of YSU’s Master of Health and Human Services degree program, is creating in partnership with two Youngstown agencies that work with teens.

Lyons said the YSU Senior Mentorship Program will partner with Safehouse Ministries, a nonprofit social service agency in Youngstown, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Mahoning Valley. He thinks the program will have a positive impact on the young adults and their mentors alike.

“When you’re 17, you’re scared. Life is a big puzzle,” said Lyons, also an assistant professor of Health Professions and a senior citizen himself. “When you’re 67, life is no longer a puzzle. You’ve got time on your hands and you have some good advice to give.”

Pastor Bob Denen, chief executive officer at Safehouse, said the residential facility and high school will provide young people who could benefit from a mentoring relationship. “We’re very excited about partnering with YSU on this program,” he said, “and we feel it will be beneficial to both mentors and mentees.”

The Youngstown Foundation has awarded YSU a $13,875 one-year start up grant, and the university is also providing support. A steering committee has been organized, comprised of local judges, YSU faculty, elected officials and other community leaders who have promised their backing and resources.

Lyons will serve as a mentor, and he’s recruited three others: a retired police officer, a retired railroad executive and a semi-retired social worker. The Mahoning County Sheriff’s office will help to recruit future mentors; Big Brothers and Big Sisters will also make mentees available, as the program grows, and will provide mentor training.

“We like the idea of working with the YSU Senior Mentorship Program to reach these children and help guide them to positive outcomes.” said Brian Higgins, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters Mahoning Valley.

Kurt Welsh, a graduate student working with Lyons, said the mentorship program will provide a needed community service. “Research shows that there’s a wealth of provisions for kids in this population, but it ends. These are finite programs,” he said, referring to young people who become ineligible for services when they reach the age of 18. Mentors will work with their mentees on social skills, he said, and encourage further schooling – college or vocational training – to prepare them for employment and an independent future.