Doris Smith said programs like Maywood Youth Mentoring helps her raise her three young grandchildren.
“I get a lot of information from the events,” Smith said. “This program helps me, help them.”
Smith, 55, is a certified nursing assistant who took in her three young grandchildren – two young boys and a girl – when their parents weren’t able to care for them. Having been a school dropout at the age of 11, Smith said she wants more for her grandchildren than what she was offered.
“I want master’s degrees, and they all know this. I don’t care if I’m dead in my grave, you have to get me a master’s degree,” she said.
Smith said she pushes her grandchildren to meet their goals because she knows they can, and she doesn’t let them give up.
“My two boys need to be home before the street lights come on,” she said. “I don’t want them growing up in the wrong direction, especially since one of them has dreams of living in one of the big buildings in downtown Chicago.”
Smith is one client with children enrolled in Maywood Youth Mentoring, which was started by Barbara Cole when she was president of the United Way in Maywood. The initial $50,000 grant came through the efforts of state Rep. Karen A. Yarbrough (D-Broadview). Since then, the program has been funded through donations and research grants, and volunteers staff the program.
The program mentors 8- to 24-year olds, teaching life and self-esteem skills through group mentoring. It also offers field trips, educational workshops, monthly breakfasts and performances. Some participants find full-time jobs paying $9 an hour.
One of the male mentors at Maywood Youth Mentoring, Vladimir Thompson, said he knows a thing or two about heading in the wrong direction.
“I became a youth mentor because I used to be a part of the streets, but I made it out,” Thompson said.
Thompson, 47, now has two jobs, a house, car, four children and four grandchildren. Thompson said programs like this one were available to him when he was younger, but he strayed from them.
“I was trying to help my big brother who was tied up in gangs, and as a result I got tied up in them as well,” he said.
Now Thompson said he’s just glad that he made it out and is able to mentor the young men of tomorrow.
“The benefit of this mentoring program is getting up close and personal with my mentees,” he said.
At a recent breakfast, after the mentors’ welcome, prayer and singing of the black national anthem, the social Greek Delta Phi Delta dance fraternity gave a performance.
“Dance speaks word. It’s a nonverbal way of speaking to someone, and you never know how you may touch a child through dance,” said Carla Dotson, national event coordinator for Delta Phi Delta.
Dotson said the dancers earn community service hours for their non-profit organization that started in 2000. They also recruit new members to the fraternity.
“Our youth is our future, so I believe that we need to empower them to have a better future,” she said. “It’s encouraging, and we’re also always reaching out.”
She noted that participants must be 18 to join or have parental consent.
Lillie Childress, who mentors young women in the group, agreed dance is a powerful tool in a child’s life.
“I use dance as an outlet for me and to give back to my community,” she said. “It helps them grow as a person mentally, physically and emotionally.”
Childress, a substitute teacher who teaches junior high school, has been with the program almost 10 years and said she works with the girls in the group and uses a book titled “Butterfly Girls” for different activities. She said they talk about things such as peer pressure, hair texture, skin color and issues that females typically have to deal with.
“I teach them how to be proud of who they are and to be comfortable in the skin they’re in,” Childress said. “We want them to be proud of who they are as young black women.”
Childress also assists on taking the group to different locations around the country.
“Whenever there’s some type of African-American display we try to raise money, get a bus and take the kids there,” she said.
Childress said her ultimate goal is to take the group to Africa in the next couple of years. She said it has been her heart’s desire to go as well because with a master’s degree, she said her education wouldn’t be complete until she’s made the journey.
“A lot of our children are afraid to go to Africa because of the negative images they see on television, but we want to give them an opportunity to go see that Africa is beautiful, and that’s where they came from,” C said.
Faith Jackson, 15, who has been mentored and now mentors younger girls, said her grandmother first got her interested in the program when she was around 11 or 12 and she keeps coming because she loves it.
“I liked what they spoke about, and I liked going on the trips,” Jackson said. “The best trip was when we went to Ohio. It was so fun.”
Jackson said she has gained a lot from this program and feels that it forced her to become more outgoing.
“This group makes me feel better about myself,” she said. “I use to be scared to go up to the mentors and ask questions. I used to just sit there, but now I talk more. I’m not afraid to go up to people and I’m kind of a mentor myself now.”
The founder of the group, Cole, wants to start an African American History Club. She is also still looking for a permanent location to house Maywood Youth Mentoring and is always looking for grants, volunteer work and donations.
“My personal goal is to fill a void of youth activities in the community,” Cole said. “It takes organization to make things happen, and if we keep our focus on the kids and let our actions be driven by the kids we’ll have a greater impact in the community.”