Community Impact: Legacy Youth Mentoring
"Ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend?" sings James Taylor.
The famous singer-songwriter likely would be a big fan of Legacy Youth Mentoring, a program that pairs school students with adult mentors to form life-affirming and inspiring friendships.
The in-school, friendship-based mentoring program annually serves more than 200 students by providing a mentor who comes to the school each week to spend 30 minutes with his or her mentee, according to Executive Director Lisa Stephens.
Legacy Youth Mentoring began during the 2004-05 school year as Lindsay’s Legacy Mentoring, named in memory of Jack Lindsay, founder of The Potter’s House in Jefferson and an advocate of youth mentoring. Originally a part of Jackson County Family Connection, the program became an independent 501(c)3 non-profit in 2012 and changed its name in 2017.
Stephens has been with the organization since 2005, volunteering as program coordinator for two years to get the program up and running. “We started with 45 students and, since 2008, have served more than 200 students each year,” she says, adding that 225 mentors were matched with 235 students last year. “Our very first piece of funding was from the Jackson EMC Foundation in 2006.”
Since then, other Jackson EMC Foundation grants have followed, including one in May for $15,000 for the program, which provides mentors for K-12 students in Jackson County Schools, Jefferson City Schools and Commerce City Schools. In addition, Jackson EMC’s Jefferson District Manager Joe Hicks and Senior Marketing Representative Christy Queen serve on Legacy’s board of directors. Several Jackson EMC employees serve as mentors.
Legacy Youth Mentoring recruits and trains volunteer mentors, then shares the information with school counselors who match mentors with students referred by teachers or parents for the program. Mentors weekly meet students at school for a half hour during breakfast, lunch or free time.
“Doing the mentoring within the school day adds safety and flexibility,” says Stephens, noting that most schools have a waiting list of students in need of mentoring. “We always need more mentors, especially men, because we have more males on the waiting list.”
In developing friendships, mentors work to discover their student’s personal strengths and build on them, according to Stephens, who defines the cornerstone of the program like this: “What says to a child that someone cares more than having an adult come to see just you?”
She tells of one student who asked her new mentor at their second session, “How much do you get paid?” “Nothing,” the mentor answered. “How far do you drive to see me?” “Fifteen miles.” “Why?” asked the puzzled child. “Because I want to be your friend,” the volunteer mentor answered.
“The child’s face lit up—because she felt valued,” says Stephens. “Sometimes it’s hard to put a price on this; it’s intangible. But it can be powerful, long-term and life changing.”
Not specific to socioeconomics or academic abilities, mentoring is available for all students and meets a wide variety of immediate and longterm needs.
“We’ve served kids who have experienced illness, homelessness, or the death or deployment of a parent,” says Stephens, noting that many mentors continue their partnership through the student’s elementary, middle and high school years.
Jackson County School System Assistant Superintendent of Operations Jamie Hitzges serves as chairman of Legacy’s Board of Directors—and as a mentor to a fourth grader at South Jackson Elementary School. As both a mentor and program representative, he knows the impact Legacy Youth Mentoring can have.
“It is the connection between what is and what can be,” says Hitzges. “It allows the power of one person to change the trajectory of a child.”
It’s what having—and being—a friend is all about.