August 9, 2010

Mentor Youth, Build a Life

As my first quarter at UCLA encroaches, a barrage of emails and general announcements have started to hit my inbox at an accelerated rate. The majority are, of course, posts from my future MSW classmates, eager to introduce themselves or hunt for potential roommates.

Sifting through my daily digest of the 1st year MSW emails, one particular post caught my eye: "LA Conservation Corps - Mentoring Future Leaders Youth 16 to 18 years of age." I barely finished reading the subject line before I found myself googling the organization.

What I found was truly inspiring: LA Conservation Corps is an organization that seeks to help at-risk youth through a number of free programs: after-school tutoring, academic scholarships, work-skill programs, transitional living programs, one-on-one mentoring... the list goes on and on.

As I dove deeper into each initiative of the LA Conservation Corps, I was extremely impressed by the YouthBuild Mentoring Program. Young adults develop relationships with volunteers by meeting on a month-to-month basis. Mentors guide mentees in numerous ways, whether it is exploring career options, developing strategies to achieve academic success, or discussing how to reconnect with their families and communities. Ultimately mentors are there to guide program participants on how to build a path for a productive and fulfilling adult life.

The influence of programs like the LA Corps YouthBuild on young adults are limitless. Many attribute mentoring programs for reducing juvenile crime, substance abuse, and recidivism rates among young adults. Imagine what a collective initiative by the community to mentor youth could do? YouthBuild alone has allowed 725 young adults to complete their high school education, 99 more to earn their GED, and 626 to receive their high school diplomas - it's pretty remarkable.

What is so clear in the minutes that I researched this organization, is that the program's success is completely dependent on the talent and passion of the staff. Mary Starks, director of the YouthBuild program, shared a small window into the world of devotion she provides for these at-risk teens:

"During the youth recruitment process, I walked in a classroom filled with 16 to 18 year old students waiting to hear about our LA Corps YouthBuild Mentoring Program. To my surprise the room was packed with students looking for a chance to be a part of the program. From that moment, I made them a promise that I would find them mentors even if I have to work nights, evenings and weekends to do it."

There is no denying that the LA Conservation Corps is demonstrating how a successful non-profit should operate: with an ironclad mission, a committed staff, and a proven devotion to their population. Should you or anyone you know have any interest in becoming an LA Corps YouthBuild mentor, please contact Mary Starks (

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