YSU mentorship program pairs senior citizen mentors with at-risk youth

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Celebrating the launch of the new YSU Senior Youth Mentorship Program are, from left: Brian Higgins, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mahoning Valley; Joseph Lyons, director of YSU’s Master of Health and Human Services degree program; and Kurt Dupont of Safehouse Ministries.

A new mentorship program created by Youngstown State University professor Joseph Lyons will pair trained and caring senior citizen mentors with teenagers who are struggling with behavioral, emotional, mental and abuse issues.

The YSU Senior Mentorship Program is a working partnership that unites the Bitonte College of Health and Human Services, Safehouse Ministries, a nonprofit social service agency in Youngstown, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Mahoning Valley. Lyons, director of YSU’s Master of Health and Human Services degree program, said he believes 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.”

The Youngstown Foundation has awarded YSU a $13,875 one-year start up grant for the program, 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.

Pastor Bob Denen, chief executive officer at Safehouse, said the residential facility/ high school will make the mentorship program available to some of its students and residents who might 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.”

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 of Mahoning Valley will also make mentees available, as the program grows, and will provide mentor training.

“Big Brothers Big Sisters is committed to providing quality service to children in need of mentoring relationships,” said Brian Higgins, executive director of the Valley chapter. “We like the idea of working with the YSU Senior Mentorship Program to reach these children and help guide them to positive outcomes.”

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.

Members of the YSU Senior Youth Mentorship steering committee are:

  • Tim Callion, Business Agent, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396
  • Judge Theresa Dellick, Mahoning County Juvenile Court
  • Judge John M. Durkin, Mahoning County Common Pleas
  • Judge R. Scott Krichbaum, Mahoning County Common Pleas
  • Anne Feist, YSU Human Resources
  • Lori Fine, recruitment specialist, Eastern Gateway Community College
  • Jerry Greene, Mahoning County Sheriff
  • Louis Harris, YSU Professor Emeritus
  • John Hazy, YSU graduate coordinator, Criminal Justice
  • Brian Higgins, executive director, Big Brothers Big Sisters Mahoning County
  • Jane Hogan, director of academics and special education, Mahoning County Career and Technical Center
  • Carlton Ingram, Operating Engineers Local 66
  • Judge R. Scott Krichbaum, Mahoning County Common Pleas
  • Marty Loney, Director of Training & Organizing, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396
  • Pat Lowry, congressional aide to U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan
  • Maureen Reagan, YSU field education coordinator, MSW program
  • Salvatore Sanders, associate dean, YSU Graduate School
  • Ohio Senator Joseph Schiavoni
  • Attorney Lori Shells, Mahoning County Prosecutor