TO GET A GLIMPSE of the future, take a look at the youth of today. While each generation has its own promises and challenges, too many of our next generation awake each day to burdens of stress and unmet needs they aren’t meant to bear. When young people shoulder adult responsibilities, they miss out on important developmental stages needed to equip them for their own adult lives.
TAKE STEWART, for example. At just 15 years old, he is the man of the house. His dad left when he was 9. Life got better when his stepdad moved in with them, but he left just a few years ago. He can remember a time, before his dad left, when he didn’t feel this weight of responsibility, but that was 6 years ago. His mom works a lot and often comes home late and tired. Sometimes Stewart misses just being a kid. Most nights, he has to make sure his siblings get fed and do their homework, then switch from “parent mode” and do his own homework, when possible. There isn’t enough food to go around, so he often skips meals to make sure everyone else eats. In the family’s small apartment, he shares a room with his younger brother, but he still feels so alone, like nobody understands him. He doesn’t like being home. He’s often angry but doesn’t know why. Then, he finds a place to belong among a group of gang members, where he starts using drugs to cope and numb the pain of life. Before long, he turns to crime as a way to provide for his family. His life continues to spiral downward.
It’s not long before Stewart suddenly finds himself locked up in the Juvenile Detention Center, with a 9-month sentence. Not only does this leave his siblings with even less care and support, it also adds to his mom’s burdens. Current statistics show that Stewart has a 60 percent likelihood of being arrested again within the first year of his release from an IL Dept. of juvenile justice facility. That percentage rises to 86 percent by the third year after the initial release from detention.
Stewart didn’t end up here because of any one isolated decision or factor. His situation is much more complex. Similarly, there is no single program or social service that can provide for his combination of needs. But, for now at least, Stewart still has some hope that things can get better. He wants to do what he can to make a change. He’s ready but lacks the critical relational support he needs to take that first step.
PEOPLE ARE KEY
This is where Life Decisions comes in: a unique, newly established local organization committed to supporting overlooked and undervalued youth. Our approach is anchored in relational mentoring: it’s not unlike that of a
friendship. Both people show up to give and both people show up to learn, creating a healthy way of life, where life and leadership skills are demonstrated and connected to our community (adapted from Simon Sinek’s definition of mentoring).
How does this work?
First, we equip mentors to invest in at-risk and justice-involved youth, using a relational model that blends adult, peer group, and individual mentoring.
Second, we create relational opportunities where mentors and youth can work, serve, and enjoy activities together, allowing relationships to be built organically and intentionally.
Life Decisions provides an intensive, high level of care with the structure and accountability necessary for youth to build a foundation for lasting life change and personal ownership. We do this through a tribe of committed, equipped mentors.
THE SIX PILLARS OF LIFE DECISIONS -
STEWART NEEDS A PLAN:
Our structure is built upon six interdependent PILLARS that form an infrastructure designed to assess, encourage, and support at-risk youth through a comprehensive PLAN.
Safe & Stable Housing
P- is for People:
Stewart needs PEOPLE - a tribe of mentors - who will come alongside to help him break away from destructive influences. Change is difficult! But, the Six Pillars are designed and sequenced to meet current needs and to provide the training needed for future success.
We begin with PILLAR 1: Safe and Stable Housing. During admission, we assess Stewart’s needs to determine whether residential placement is necessary. Life Decisions’ leadership hopes to soon provide a one-year residential transitional housing program, a 28 day boot camp program, and affordable apartments to those who are ready for independence, but can’t afford to or need the close support of a mentoring community.
Next is PILLAR 2: Self-Care. Does he have a place to address his mental and physical health? to learn new coping skills? connect relationally? learn life skills? The answers quite often are No. Solutions aren’t found on store shelves, or once in a while attempts. There are no short-cuts to long-term change and growth. But effective mentoring relationships can make all the difference. As Stewart commits to himself and the process, mentors and peers also commit to him.
L – LEADERSHIP: Through his life experiences and learned independence, Stewart has already developed strong leadership traits. But where is his current direction taking him? As a gang member, he’s out in our streets, leading others destructively.
PILLAR 3: Serve-Now. We need to show him how to realign his life by learning healthy leadership skills, raising expectations, and challenging him to reach his God-given potential. As part of a supportive community, Stewart can learn his own value by serving and giving back to the community. Group mentoring provides an opportunity for generational, cultural, racial, and geographical barriers to be broken down. This includes focusing on educational needs, learning a healthy work ethic, and preparing him to find and keep employment.
A – ACCOUNTABILITY: Stewart learns the meaning and importance of accountability through his primary mentor. A primary mentor is similar to a case manager. They are responsible for communicating with his family, caseworkers, PO, and other service providers, to help set Stewart up for success in reaching his goals - while simultaneously accomplishing their own personal, educational, spiritual and career goals as part of his Individualized Life Decisions Goal Plan.
PILLAR 4: Work-Now. Stewart now is ready for work
preparation opportunities, such as job shadowing, or paid work for Life Decisions, up to 25 hours/week. After a month or tow, he becomes workforce-ready and is referred to a job at a partnering business, one which collaborates with Life Decisions and provides him with a workplace mentor who stays in close contact with Stewart’s Primary.
PILLAR 5: Leadership. Having been supported and invested in, Stewart is poised to be a reliable leader within the Tribe of Life Decisions, as well as outside, in the wider world of education, employment, family life; his attitudes, choices, and decisions flow from a young man who has chosen to make lasting, positive life change, and to facilitate a similar process in others.
N– INVESTMENT: Life Decisions is not a program that youth “age out of”. Stewart has grown personally, spiritually, and professionally, his experiences and successes elevate him to new positions within the tribe of Life Decisions too. As he caught a new vision for his future, was supported in multiple ways to succeed and grew into a successful adult, he became a mentor too.
PILLAR 6: Adult Internship. Some of our adult interns, like Stewart, have been raised through the Tribe of Life Decisions. Others are adult professionals who are seeking to gain experience and college credits from all over. They enter into this year-long internship program to serve as a primary mentor to youth like Stewart. Others, like Stewart, graduate their way through the process of sustained growth. This pillar brings the process full-circle and provides an opportunity for those who have been poured into, to give back to others who are just beginning their journey within the tribe of mentors.
Imagine the impact of Life Decisions in Rockford…a place where few people feel alone, overlooked, or undervalued. Many have mentors that have invested in their lives, and then they have multiplied the cycle of success by investing in others themselves. We trust them. They know us well, are there for us, care about us, teach, help, and motivate us to reach our God-given potential. Mentoring relationships extend beyond age, race, gender, socioeconomic status or beliefs and are united around a common goal. In building a tribe of mentors, we become a community of life-on-life relationships, helping and bringing restoration to Rockford.