Lead4Life offers programs to high-risk populations

December 01, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Angela St. Clair is program manager for Lead4Life. The program recently was awarded the Washington County Diversion Program by the Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

His seat is often empty in the classroom because school isn't a priority.

When he is in attendance, he argues with his teachers, refuses to do their assignments and spends time in detention for fighting in the cafeteria.

He has given in to the temptation of drugs and alcohol, is disrespectful to his mother — who has drug problems of her own — and has a temper that's out of control.

Every day is filled with chaos — and he's 12 years old.

If his pattern of behavior continues, the boy will likely be one of the million of American students who drop out of school.

He also would be at risk of getting entangled in the justice system and becoming a young father who never knows his children.

But he might be one of the fortunate individuals who turns his life around and has a productive future.

It could happen with the guidance of a positive adult role model.

It could happen with the help of an organization like Lead4Life, Inc.

Lead4Life is a local nonprofit dedicated to empowering individuals using strength-based initiatives to improve one's quality of life.

In existence since June of 2008, the organization started with one initiative and now has more than five different programs offered to a high-risk population.

It recently was awarded the Washington County Diversion Program by the Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families, the newly named Washington County Office of Community Grant Management.

The program, including a mentoring initiative, serves local youth who are at risk of being involved in the criminal justice system or are first-time youth offenders.

"Inspired with a vision and determination to help the underserved, Lead4Life was created to make a difference in communities," said Angela St. Clair, program manager for the mentoring initiative.

According to St. Clair, the diversion programs serve youths ages 8 to 18. Those who are eligible for the mentoring initiative are in the Child in Need of Supervision (CINS) program or Diversion Program, she noted.

Youth who are involved in the CINS component are voluntarily referred by their guardians, St. Clair explained. Youth are screened and are assigned case managers for six to 12 months. The case manager works closely with families to help focus on strengths and address any challenges head-on.

The Washington County Diversion Program provides services to first-time youth offenders for crimes such as liquor law violations, possession of controlled dangerous substances, and simple assault.

St. Clair said those offenders might be assigned to community service hours, write essays of understanding, drug/alcohol screenings, mental health evaluations and treatment, restitution or written apologies.

"Washington County Diversion Program takes a restorative justice approach and victims have a say in a youth's involvement with Diversion," St. Clair said. "The Diversion component is to keep youth from moving forward in the juvenile justice system."

On average, she noted, the program serves about 70 youths a month.

"The program has a large number of youth who potentially could have mentors," St. Clair said. "The issue we have is not only recruiting volunteer mentors, but specifically males. A little over 50 percent of the youth served in the program are males and of those males, a significant percentage of them have no consistent positive male role model in their lives."

St. Clair said the first mentor matches were initiated in early August. Since then, seven youth (mentees) and mentors have been paired — five females and two males.

There currently are four male youth on a waiting list, she added.

"Male applications have stalled until these youth can be matched. We work with youth who have frail self-image. We don't want kids waiting for 90 days on a waiting list asking themselves, 'What's wrong with me? 'Why didn't I get picked?'"

St. Clair said being a mentor can make a big difference in a young person's life.

Male recruitment is the current focus of the program, she noted. "We need men to step up and help guide our young men. We believe it takes a village to raise a child. We are asking for villagers."

According to St. Clair, "we recruit mentors over the age of 21 from all walks of life — professionals, retirees, students, ex-addicts and ex-cons, men who have learned the value of volunteering to make a difference in the lives of youth."

Mentors are asked to commit for at least one year and a minimum of one hour a week.

"I always tell people, I check my Facebook more than that," St. Clair said. "We all have time to make a difference."

St. Clair said youths and mentors complete an application process, which screens for activities, subjects and preferences enjoyed by each. During the screening, parents also are interviewed "so we can determine personality type, goals for the relationship and personal preferences."

A background check and reference check is also completed. Then the trained mentor, mentee and parent have a match meeting to get to know each other.

Once partnered, St. Clair said the two individuals are given monthly calendars which list free or low-cost activities within Washington County. "We also host a monthly activity like ice skating, roller skating or go-carting," she said. "But some of our kids just like having someone show them individual attention and listen to them. Mentors have to be good listeners and nonjudgmental first and foremost."

 "The beautiful part of mentoring is not just the value you give to another, but the lessons we learn in the process," St. Clair said. "If we all pay it forward, we could really perpetuate good decision-making, so these kids don't have to end up in detention centers and group homes."

If you help ...

Persons interested in becoming a mentor with Lead4Life should call 301-791-7314 or email to make an appointment.

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