In this episode Amanda is joined by Janaiha Bennett, the Executive Director of Youth Leadership Foundation (YLF). Janaiha shares generously about:
// her journey from a participant with YLF to becoming Executive Director
// how she encourages young people to see optimism as an act of courage
// how their long-term programs build resilience in young people
// how the foundation works
// her advice for people starting out as a youth mentor or youth advocate
YMP S3 Ep4 – FULL TRANSCRIPT
[00:00:00] so many of our kids have gone through such tremendous challenges before, before the pandemic even started and it comes, it, it brings the realization that in very real ways, we’re not always able to protect the students that come to us from every life circumstance, and I think the reason that we’re so engaged with the idea of building resilience is that, um, the world is coming at our kids.
[00:00:28] You know, in ways that we always can’t predict. And so rather than trying to protect them from those experiences, we want to shape them for those experiences to grow out of them and be strengthened within them.
[00:00:41] Hello and welcome to the youth mentor podcast. This is your short burst of inspiration tips and research about teens for parents, educators, and mentors. I’m your host, Amanda Rootsey, founder of teen personal development school Shine From Within and coach to incredible youth mentors all over the world. Now I certainly don’t know it all.
[00:01:00] So I interview the experts about what’s going on for youth today. From psychological insights to really practical advice, this is your moment of inspiration, motivation, and a few laughs amidst the ever changing world of teens and tweens.
[00:01:14] Hi, welcome to this episode of the youth mentor podcast. I’m really excited to introduce you to the executive director of the youth leadership foundation in Washington, DC, Janaiha Bennett. Janaiha shared so many practical ways that we can build resilience in young people. She talked about how we can show up authentically and uh, as people that are still growing ourselves as mentors. She shared about the joys of growing within an organization because Janaiha actually started out as a participant with, with YLF many years ago and is now the executive director. So I loved hearing that story and I’m sure you will too. W we also talked about their main programs at YLF, how they’re expressed in different formats, um, different programs that they run.
[00:02:02] How they offer wraparound services that, that come in alongside the parents as well. Where they get some of their funding and community support. Um, so if you work with young people and love hearing stories about the way that other organizations work and you love just hearing passionate, excited, engaging, beautiful people that, that work in this space, as I’m sure you do, because that’s pretty much every guest on this podcast, then you are really going to love this episode with Janaiha.
[00:02:33] Welcome Janaiha to the Youth Mentor Podcast. I’m so, so thrilled to have you here and to be getting to chat with you about you and about Youth Leadership Foundation. I’m just so excited that you’re here.
[00:02:45] I’m so thrilled Amanda. I’ve been thinking about this conversation all week and I’ve just been looking forward to it so much, so thanks so much for welcoming us.
[00:02:54] You’re welcome. It’s such an incredible organization. Would you mind telling us a little bit about it and about your journey with them as well?
[00:03:03] Absolutely. Um, I love YLF. So youth leadership foundation was founded in the seventies and eighties sort of as a, um, as a ministry outreach, um, from a faith-based group, um, in DC. Um, but from that just sprung these programs, um, that, you know, started with afterschool programs and expanded to Saturday.
[00:03:24] Um, and, and also in summer. And I got involved as a college student. So I was in university, um, in 2006 and a friend of mine just kept bugging me about this program that she loved. And so I finally acquiesced and I came along and, and I fell in love with it too, you know? I just enjoyed, , the community that was there, I enjoyed, um, being able to mentor young girls.
[00:03:49] Um, I enjoyed the mentorship and that fellowship among other mentors. Um, and you know, from there I just couldn’t get away. Um, you know, we, we call it getting bit by the bug at YLF. And so I’m a lifer.
[00:04:04] I love that. So when was it 2006 that you started with them?
[00:04:11] Yeah. Yeah. I started as a mentor. Um, so I was a part of the summer program and it’s sort of structured as a summer school kind of summer camp.
[00:04:18] Uh, so the, the kids do performing arts activities, they do, um, uh, you know, academic activities, but the centerpiece of it is the character and mentorship. So we get to talk about real topics that are of major concern to the, the young, the young women, and also young men. I was in the ladies program. So we’re talking about friendship, we’re talking about relationships with family, um, and they’re just really inspiring conversations. Um, you know, helping the students to understand, you know, what they can do, what goals they can set for their own lives, um, no matter where they are, you know, and how that can affect change in their family and their community.
[00:04:57] Um, and so that, that is what sort of just got me hooked on to the program. Um, I started coming back every summer and then when I was in grad school, I kept, you know, kept volunteering. Um, and so finally, when I was done with grad school, I took on a full-time position because one opened up and I said, “oh, me, please pick me!”
[00:05:16] Um, and from there, I just sort of have grown with the organization doing different types of work, um, for YLF you know, everything from, from, uh, running programs to program evaluation to operations and now, you know, leading the, uh, the organization by, you know, spreading the the word about YLF.
[00:05:33] So, um, it’s been quite a journey.
[00:05:37] It’s incredible to hear how, how much it has shaped your whole life, your whole career.
[00:05:44] Absolutely. Absolutely. Um, you know, it’s, it’s such a joy to be able to, and I know just from your experience um, you know, with, with shine from within, you know, you get to sort of see it evolve and grow um, and so it’s been such a pleasure. Oh my goodness, over the past 14 years, I guess, yeah, 16 years. Um, it’s kind of strange when you kind of put a number to it, but, um, yeah, it’s, it’s seen me through a lot of changes in my life and, um, I think that’s sort of the beauty of the organization really, because, um, it is really growth oriented, you know, um, we, we talk with the students about how we’re always changing and growing as people and so it’s, you know, I reflect with satisfaction that that’s, that’s been true of my experience with YLF. Like it’s always been a place where I can grow and become a better version of myself, you know?
[00:06:39] That’s incredible. Just even looking at the website, it seems like that growth for the mentors, as well as the kids is a really big part of, of everything that you do there.
[00:06:51] You know, it absolutely is. Um, I think that’s one of the things that sort of makes us very distinct, you know, among mentoring programs is that, you know, every mentor who is at YLF, we’re pretty open and honest with the students that you know, uh, we’re all works in progress, you know, that no one has a, a premium on, on, you know, good, good character, good competence or, or whatever the case may be, that we’re always growing and changing.
[00:07:20] Um, and I think that that authenticity about our growth is appealing to the students. They realize, you know, Hey, you know, I’m, I could be that because it’s not something that’s so far above me that is unattainable. Yeah. Um, and so there, there are quite a number of the mentors now who actually were former students.
[00:07:42] Um, our, our, uh, our TAP director of our, um, Tilly achievement program, he came up through the program. Um, and he’s now leading programs. It’s such a, it’s such a satisfaction to watch him work with the boys and say, “I was exactly where you are. You know, I know what your experience is like, and I’m still growing myself.”
[00:08:01] So. Yeah, it’s kind of fun. It’s a, it’s a fun, uh, it’s fun to watch that that happen. You know, watching the young kids kind of come up through the program and then go back and mentor others. It’s it’s a pleasure. Yeah.
[00:08:19] I feel like that’s such an important part of mentoring is, is recognizing that you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have it all figured out. And sometimes I know when people come into our youth mentor training, they they’re really worried that well, hang on. I don’t have my life totally figured out yet so how can I possibly, you know, hold a space for young people or guide them or yeah, or advise them by. I don’t know, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. Do you find that the mentoring is more about kind of holding space with them or for them rather than actually telling them how to do things or what to do or advise in that way?
[00:08:57] Yeah, I think, I think, I think you’re exactly right. Um, I think that oftentimes, um, one of the interesting things that you learn when you’re working with young people is that they hold many of the answers to the questions of their life. If they just would have someone to, to sit with them, you know, um, sometimes ask a few questions, um, sometimes give some encouragement, um, but they astound you if you sometimes let them be to discover, you know?
[00:09:29] So, um, one of my favorite stories is, um, You know, actually happened over the course of the pandemic when we had switched to, to a lot of virtual, um, programming. And in one of the mentor sessions, um, a student was very frustrated, you know, it was just the beginning of the lockdown and they were, um, there was talking about how their, their grandmother just, they just kept getting in conflict is so much kind of, um, vitreal just every time you turn around and there was some kind of argument.
[00:09:59] And they were very frustrated, you know, with the situation. Um, and the mentor, you know, uh, just openly talking with them, listening asked a few questions here and there. “Why do you think your, your grandmother is feeling so stressed? You mentioned your grandmother’s feeling really stressed out. What do you, what do you think going on with her?”
[00:10:18] “Well, she’s just really stressed out about the pandemic about, you know, she can’t go to work and the house is always a mess and she’s, she’s, I think she’s really scared,” you know, and just giving that answer, I mean, very pre you know, very, uh, cognizant answer for, I think the student was between nine and 11, you know, um, and, uh, the mentor asked, “yeah, no, that’s gotta be really hard for everybody. You know, what, what do you think you can do to be helpful in that situation?”
[00:10:47] And so after some reflection, the mentee said, “well, you know, things are pretty messy in the kitchen. I could probably help by washing the dishes, you know, every day.” And so this student, this nine-year-old started washing the dishes every day and then the grandmother responding to the student, washing the dishes every day is just touched and like, you know, overwhelmed that their, their grandbaby is, is helping out in the house in that way, unprompted, unasked for, and so now this nine-year-old is seeing in a very vivid way that just with some, some time to reflect and think about the experience they are literally changing the world for themselves.
[00:11:25] You know, they’re changing the world for their grandmother and they’re making it a better place. By something that they can do, you know? And I just think that that’s very powerful, you know, I think that, that everyone has something to offer and something to contribute. And sometimes, like you said, it’s about holding that space, you know, um, giving, giving a young person the opportunity to reflect, to breathe, you know, to be around someone who’s encouraging and loving them and, you know, sort of on the journey with them. Um, it’s so powerful. It’s so powerful. So it’s such a pleasure to be able to, to see all these little sparks happening everywhere. And it’s such rewarding work as you know, it’s such rewarding work. Okay.
[00:12:12] What a beautiful ripple effects to see how that would then impact that household.
[00:12:17] Right? Yeah, exactly.
[00:12:18] You know, um, such a troubled time made brighter, you know? Yeah.
[00:12:24] Yeah. And the power of knowing how to ask that question to have, you know, dislike gently, casually, “what, what do you think you could do to, to make a change there or to help out there?” Yeah.
[00:12:36] Yeah. Nothing too forceful right? Yeah.
[00:12:42] Speaking of the pandemic, I don’t know if it’s the same in the states, but here in Australia, there’s so much talk about building resilience in kids and, um, and especially now kind of giving them that support at this, at this moment in history and in their lives. Do you, yeah. What are your thoughts on, on how to actually build resilience in kids and how do you do that at YLF?
[00:13:09] Oh man. Absolutely. You know, so, so many of our kids have gone through such tremendous challenges before, before the pandemic even started and it comes, it, it brings the realization that in very real ways, we’re not always able to protect the students that come to us from every life circumstance, you know, um, be it familial, be it among friends, you know, exposure to all number of things, you know; bullying or, um, just, you know, caustic environments, um, or, or upheaval, you know, so kind of a changing cast of characters in the home. And, um, and that can be very destabilizing. Um, and I think the reason that we’re so engaged with the idea of building resilience is that, um, the world is coming at our kids.
[00:14:04] You know, in ways that we always can’t predict. And so rather than trying to protect them from those experiences, we want to shape them for those experiences to grow out of them and be strengthened within them. And I think a lot of the, the resilience, um, that we build is, um, letting the students know that, no matter their circumstance, there’s always something that’s within their control.
[00:14:29] And even if the only thing that’s under their control is their, their attitude and their perception of things. And that’s a very difficult challenge. I think, um, you know, there’s a quote by Victor Frankl, um, where, you know, ‘it’s in a swirl of, of, of circumstances outside myself the only thing that I’m in, in control of truly is my attitude. And in that, I actually have true freedom.’ So for us, resilience is about cultivating inner freedom and cultivating the sense of ‘I choose,’ you know, I choose if I can’t always choose my circumstances, I can choose my response. And I think that that is the, um, that’s the base level, you know, that’s the entry-level point to resilience?
[00:15:15] Is this the sense that yes, I am the captain of the ship, you know? Um, I’m the, I’m the author of my fate in that way. I think it can be very, very powerful idea when you sort of remind them. And so that’s that, that’s the idea, that’s the general idea, but then in terms of how you achieve, you know, uh, the sense of , of choice, you know, we do it actually in very practical ways.
[00:15:42] Sometimes it’s as simple as, um, teaching a child how to play chess. Um, and I know this is kind of a strange idea, but just by, um, you know, when you, what we find is that when students play tests with their mentors, um, they’re physically learning to think ahead or thinking, uh, learn that there’s multiple options, you know, um, that’s just kind of like a small way.
[00:16:07] Um, and, and it’s a non-threatening way too, just because it’s just a game. Um, so there’s lots of different ways, but I think it starts with, you know, impressing upon a student that they have that agency and then giving practical opportunities from work, working through different types of choices.
[00:16:28] So empowering too, to just have that knowledge and recognize that and realize that to yourself, yeah, I do have some control here and that don’t have a lot of control a lot of the time, teens.
[00:16:42] Right. You know, we get kind of thrown about. I think the, um, yeah, the pandemic and just a lot of experiences lately just existentially, we sort of feel like kids, you know, I think with just so much happening in the world, we, we sort of, it brings us back to that, um, that sense that so many things are changing that we don’t have control of. Um, but, but yet, you know, I think it, it helps us to identify a little bit more with what their experience is like, you know, um, being kind of thrown around from one situation to another, you know, um, it, it makes you, um, have a lot of empathy for childhood.
[00:17:25] Um, and the challenges, uh, I think that, that young people face a lot of challenges that we didn’t have to face, you know, when we were coming up. Um, and so I have a lot of respect for young people, and I think that, that, um, you know, that respect, you know, I think translates into growth for them because it’s not sort of this authoritarian kind of, dictating to them about, you know, how they should be or what they should be but more of a, um, giving them a, a noble calling, you know that, “yes. I know your circumstances are difficult. Like I know your challenge is great. Um, but, but there’s hope and, um, and there’s something beautiful that you can become,” you know?
[00:18:15] So important right at this juncture isn’t it, to keep holding on and instilling that hope.
[00:18:27] I haven’t thought of it in that way before thinking about the way that we’re all feeling it, you know, even adults. Yeah. How to kind of being thrown into that feeling of what it actually is normally like as, as an adolescent, what, when yeah. All this stuff’s coming at you and you don’t have a lot of control and you’re wrangling to feel like you want a bit of freedom or a bit of independence, or even to make a plan, but you can’t!
[00:18:53] You’re getting thwarted from every side, all your plans.
[00:19:02] Exactly. Um, but just, yeah, just sort of this, um, you know, it’s, it’s almost defiant, right? This, this decision that, you know, “no, I, I can choose my attitude,” you know? I’m not going to be sort of, um, delusional or oblivious to the circumstances. Um, but, but in a very real way, um, optimism requires courage. You know, it takes a lot of courage to continue to hope even when circumstances are, you know, antithetical to hope, you know?
[00:19:34] Um, and so I, I like to tell our young people that, you know, um, optimism is an act of courage and bravery. Um, and I, I like that image too, just, um, of just, it helps me personally, you know, um, to, to, to remain optimistic, to have that, “well, actually I’m doing, I’m doing an act of courage right now,” you know?
[00:19:56] Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love that. I just want to be in Washington, like a fly on the wall, seeing you work your magic, it just sounds like the kids that get to work with you are so lucky and. Yeah. Now that you are executive director of the foundation, do you get to spend as much time with the kids or like, what does your role look like now?
[00:20:21] Um, man, I, I get ’em. I tell my, my, um, my team so often how much I’ve just please share your stories because I’m living vicariously through you. I don’t get to do as much. I sneak a lot of time with our high school students. So we, every summer we put on am a business plan competition. And so I kind of poked my head in with that um, but that project in particular, um, but I don’t, you know, I don’t get to do as much of the direct work with the students. Um, I do a lot of, um, work with our team and our staff and I, I work closely with our director of character and mentorship, you know, to kind of, uh, uh, you know, hear what their ideas are of um- they’re on the ground, so they know exactly what the issues, students are facing. And so, you know, they, they come up with different topics of focus topics for the, for the students, and I get to kind of enjoy and live vicariously through them. But, um, but yeah, as I mentioned, every summer, I get to participate with our high school students, as they do a business plan competition.
[00:21:26] I, I enjoyed that very much.
[00:21:29] That sounds like such a fun and empowering program too. What, what else, what other stuff do you do at YLF? What are the main programs?
[00:21:38] Yeah, so, um, so we have two main programs, um, uh, uh, PALS for young ladies and TAP, um, for young men, and each of those programs uh, basically they’re expressed in three ways.
[00:21:53] So they have, we have summer camps. Um, we have a, um, an afterschool program and we have a program that is based on, um, outdoor recreation. Um, so you know, the focus for this year has been rock climbing. So we have our mentors out going out to, um, a, a climbing gym in, um, an, uh, Alexandria, which is not too far from DC in Virginia.
[00:22:20] And the students, you know, they’re learning how to climb walls, which is amazing. There’s so many great lessons that you can kind of just teach. Um, we really love that program for that reason. There’s so many great lessons that are just inherent to being active, you know? So when you’re climbing a wall and you slipped down, you know, there’s a natural lesson about, about fortitude and perseverance.
[00:22:43] Um, but then you also have the lesson of friendship, you know, You’re you’re on the wall and I think it’s called belaying, but, you know, they’re, you’re ‘chained’ to somebody else and sort of, you’re kind of counting on someone. And so there’s so many great, you know, natural kind of life lessons that you can pull off the wall. So, um, so that’s a really great program that we’re excited about. Um, and then we’ve been doing these leadership seminars as well, which has been a lot of fun.
[00:23:13] Um, we’ve had a couple of principals ask us for support as they’ve transitioned to be back in person. Um, and just sort of, you know, it’s been kind of difficult for students sometimes to negotiate how to, how to work with each other again, after being so independent for so long. So we’ve had some seminars on that, which has been quite fun, but, um, But yeah.
[00:23:37] You know, so those are our main programs, PALS, and TAP. And then, um, and then we have this program for high schoolers, uh, which is it’s actually a full year program. They, um, we do Saturday sessions with them that are all based on personal and professional development. Um, and so they learn, you know, the normal skills, how to write a resume, how to write a cover letter, those things, but, but also, you know, who do you want to be in the world? How do you want to impact the people around you? And so we had those seminars and then it culminates in this summer experience where they get to sort of apply some of what they’ve learned into a, um, you know, I guess shark tank kind of competition. Um, so we started this in 2017 and we’ve had several different industry focuses.
[00:24:25] With the idea, being that no matter what industry you pursue in your life, you can think of it as an act of service for the people around you. You know, so that the work that you do can empower the world that can make the world a better place. Um, and so it was pretty fun to watch and see how the students, um, you know, take that idea and then express it into whatever business plan they come up with.
[00:24:48] Um, this summer we’re doing, we might be doing food trucks. So we’re really, really excited about that one. I’m excited because, you know, I just want to sample all the, all the trucks that the kids have.
[00:25:03] That sounds so fun. It should be pretty cool. It should be a fun experience. Wow. And, um, and then where do the kids come from?
[00:25:14] How does that side of things work, you know, do the, do the parents pay for it? Or is it that I think you’re a not-for-profit so, um, yeah, how do you onboard the kids and how does that all work?
[00:25:25] Absolutely. So we work with eight different school partners across the city. And so our afterschool and school year programs are no cost to students.
[00:25:35] In the summertime we charge a nominal fee. Um, but mostly just because we find that there’s greater buy-in, you know, so we, um, we, we work with students from areas of concentrated disadvantage, and a lot of times what we find is if a parent has to pay some, some kind of nominal fee, the buy-in is so strong.
[00:25:54] And so we have something like that, but no student is turned away for inability to pay. Um, so our five week summer program is basically sourced by those schools, but also quite a bit by word of mouth, you know, so parents talk to other parents and they say, ‘oh, you know, I’ve got, you know, I’ve got, so-and-so signed up for this. You should come.’
[00:26:13] And that’s honestly how we find, um, a lot of the students that work with us. Um, and it’s such a pleasure to just to work with those parents. Um, I think that it’s a good reminder, you know, about when you’re a mentor, you really want to have your services to be ‘wrap around,’ you know, so that you’re not sort of doing something that’s different than what’s happening in the home.
[00:26:36] You’re actually coming alongside the parent and supporting them, you know, kind of backing them up, you know, in ways that, um, that make sense. I’ve had so many parents tell me that ‘I’ve been trying to tell so-and-so this, but they never listened until, until you mentioned something,’ you know? And, um, but it’s, it’s that old adage, right? It takes a village. It genuinely does. You know, um, we can’t be islands out here and expect that, um, that, that students are going to get what they need, you know?
[00:27:07] It takes every little angle, you know? Um, and particularly for some of our parents that are parenting, you know, by themselves, you know, um, a single, single parent households, you know, it can be quite challenging.
[00:27:21] And just to have an organization like ours, that isn’t school-based is that, you know, the teachers per se. Um, but it’s just someone, you know, to be there and walk alongside the kids, you know, to see them, to give them that individual attention, you know, If they get they’re seen and known and cared for by someone that isn’t their mom, you know, it matters.
[00:27:42] It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal. So
[00:27:46] it makes such a difference. Are there other particular ways that you do support the parents?
[00:27:53] Yeah. Um, a lot of it happens quite organically, you know? Um, so. I, I can’t tell you how many times I’ll just get a call, you know, from a parent and we just have a, a good, good conversation, you know, for, for 30 minutes about, you know, uh, the student that’s applying for scholarships or someone who’s, who’s really frustrated by the college um, there’ve been. Uh, recently like a couple parents that have called just about navigating FAFSA, um, which is the, sorry, this is such an American thing. It’s a, it’s sort of federal student loans, um, you know, in the states. So, and just, you know, a lot of it happens organically that way. Um, but we also offer these kinds of, um, sessions or seminars, um, in summer, um, less frequently, uh, with, with the pandemic but we’re returning to form with those, those seminars where parents can kind of hear from each other, um, talk about their challenges. We have Speakers on different types of topics. You know, sometimes we’ve had financial literacy, sometimes we’ve had, uh, a talk on, um, you know, kind of like on a good book, like a parenting book.
[00:29:04] Um, and, and it’s always been kind of what we try to keep it as organic as possible. Um, so parents don’t feel talked at, but that they just feel like they’re forming, you know, a community, a supportive community.
[00:29:20] Beautiful. This conversation has been coming up a lot in our current round of Youth Mentor Training of like, you know, as you said, you can support the kids, but if you’re not also supporting the parents, or you’re not also providing spaces for them then there can be that disconnect or, or it could mean they can learn something and they end up going home and then it’s different at home. And there’s nothing they can do about that. So it’s really cool to hear the way that, that just happens quite organically with YLF and, and that, that can be enough, you know, that doesn’t need to be another whole program for the parents or just giving them that space. And I know I’ve always had those conversations too with parents of like, just a random call, but sometimes it’s just holding space for them to be heard too, Hey? Um, yeah.
[00:30:09] It’s like parenting is not easy. It’s not easy at all. Um,
[00:30:15] I’m surprised we haven’t seen your kids running in or hearing anything from them.
[00:30:20] I’m floored actually because I was hearing them talking just all the while and then suddenly it just kind of calmed down. So I think they’re being on Mummy’s side tonight, it’s great.
[00:30:34] Um, yeah, no, but I absolutely, I think, you know, parents, parents, they are the first educators of their kids, you know? Um, and I think that sometimes, sometimes we can forget that a little bit when we’re running programs, you know, we kind of, you serve them or you serve. It’s it’s easier. The students are right in front of us, but I think that the solutions are, are so much more powerful when you include, include the parent and, um, the, the best examples right now.
[00:31:04] So we do quite a bit of goal setting, um, in, in mentoring with students. That’s another way that we, we promote resilience is because, ‘Hey, you can always set a goal. You can always set a really small goal. Start from there, tiny baby steps lead to bigger things.’ Um, and so one of the easiest way that we connect with parents is about the goals that their students are setting.
[00:31:27] And I think that that’s one of the most fun ways that we connect with parents because, um, you know, a lot of times it has to do with, you know, keeping their room clean or making their bed and parents love that. They love it. So we always get a lot of positive feedback about that. I’m going to remind them about their goal.
[00:31:47] It’s really fun. It’s fun. It’s a fun way to connect with them.
[00:31:50] That’s such a great way to make sure to add that extra accountability and buy in from the whole family to on the, on the goal setting. Yeah.
[00:31:58] Yeah. And then before, you know, it, the parents are setting their own goals because they’re realizing, you know, they’re participating too, you know, um, in such a positive form of self agency to set a goal for yourself.
[00:32:09] Right. You know, I mean, You know, with it. I just, I know how pivotal my own goals have been in my life, you know, just to write them down, to think about them, to work backwards from the big goal back down to, ‘well, what’s the baby step that I have to do today to get to that bigger goal, you know?’ Um, it’s, um, it’s such a natural in relatable thing, you know?
[00:32:33] And so it’s a, it’s a point of connection for everybody. Students, mentors, parents, teachers. It’s great.
[00:32:41] One of those things that really flexes a muscle too, doesn’t it? You know, when you do achieve a little goal, it’s like, ‘oh yeah. Okay. I can do this. I’m going to set another one!’
[00:32:53] You get a little addicted to it.
[00:32:55] Right. I love it. Those endorphins, you know,
[00:33:05] Yeah, absolutely. So you have all of these incredible programs and they sound really, um, community driven and long-term, and you kind of walking alongside these young people for, um, for a period of time supporting them yeah. Through that important period. It’s incredible.
[00:33:27] Do you also do one-on-one mentoring in schools or, um, online or anything?
[00:33:32] Yeah, no, well actually our, our mentoring, so we do group based activities, but the students are always paired with an individual mentor. And I think, um, you know, it’s really sort of a part of our ethos just sort of, kind of reclaiming the power of the individual.
[00:33:49] And I think the only way to really do that is to spend time truly getting to know another individual, you know, um, it’s very difficult. We’re so distracted. And we talk about it all the time. You know, social media distracts us. There’s we have a ton of emails, you know, we’re running from this activity to that. Just to, to have a space where someone is just focused on just you, you know, um, and listening intently to just you, you know, I think it’s such a uh, needed experience. It’s such a longing for kids for that experience to have someone just listen for a moment to just me, you know? Um, and I think that from that builds this trust, this foundation, um, and it helps them express an individuality that you don’t really get in other settings, you know, um, they get to define themselves a little bit more and understand how, how they tick.
[00:34:47] Um, and, and from that space of self knowledge, you know, you can, you can be so much more confident, you know, you’re so much more certain in a way that you’re moving in the world, you know? Um, and even when with your, uh, you know, um, your, your, your areas of growth, you know, you get so much more comfortable with them because you’re sitting with someone who sees them and still cares about you and accepts you, you know, it’s it’s a great kind of experience to have that one-on-one mentorship, you know? Um, and I, yeah, I reflect so fondly on just the times that I’ve got to spend with, with young people one-on-one um, and I, I think about one young lady in particular who just, you know, we, we spent a lot of time together when I was first, um, mentoring with YLF and she was, you know, she reminded me of myself, very kind of shy and reserved and, uh, Experienced a little bit of feeling a little ostracized or on the outside of things.
[00:35:46] And, you know, just through her time in the program, I just saw her come into herself, you know, um, so much so that she started doing mentor programs of her own, you know, when she went to school in North Carolina. Um, and she actually, she came back to work at YLF at a pals program one summer, you know, mentoring students as well.
[00:36:09] Um, and it’s, it’s just, uh, it was such a pleasure, such a joy that, you know, at the time it brought me to tears, you know, thinking how she, how far she’d come and how all of it came full circle. Um, it’s quite a, it’s a beautiful story. She’s a beautiful young woman. She’s working in public health now. Um, and, and doing really good things for her community in other ways.
[00:36:30] But, um, but it all, it, it starts with that, that, uh, That being seen, being known and sort of confidence growing from there, you know?
[00:36:43] Um, you can just really feel your passion and life’s work as you talk about this.
[00:36:51] I, um, I got pretty lucky, you know, finding this, you know, as I know you did too, you know, um, I think that’s sort of like why you named it, what you did.
[00:37:02] Is, uh, is just that feeling, you know? Um, it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. It really, really shows in your work.
[00:37:10] Oh thank you. Were you, what were you studying when you ended up going down this path? Was it related to this area?
[00:37:20] Well, sort of, um, so I grew up, um, uh, as a, as a child of an educator. So I was always interested in kind of teachers in school environments.
[00:37:31] Um, and then in middle school, um, I got very interested in psychology because I was a peer mediator. And I think that sort of intersection between, you know, educational spaces and psychology, um, you know, that made be very interested in, in work like this. I was actually studying school psychology, which is more about, um, evaluating students, uh, for placement for special education services.
[00:38:01] Um, but you know, um, I don’t know. I still, I enjoy that very much too. You know, I like, I like evaluation, but I really like the, you know, just spending time with the person, you know it, and so many kids, um, You know, they don’t necessarily qualify for, for counseling services, through school, but they could definitely use some support, you know, just that little bit of a leg up, you know, that little bit of an encouragement and, um, you know, sometimes there’s that forgotten.
[00:38:33] You know, there’s the kids that are super exceptional and they get lots of attention and there’s the kids that are really, really struggling and they get lots of attention too. But that, that crop in the middle, they just, you know, they’re kind of left to fend for themselves a little bit, you know? So, yeah.
[00:38:50] That’s why mentoring is so great isn’t it? It’s that preventative space that, yeah, they don’t, they don’t quite need that, that extra support, that intense support. Or even if they do, they can get that as well. But yeah, that preventative in the middle nonclinical mentoring. So it’s so important. It’s going to keep being important.
[00:39:12] Isn’t it? Perhaps even more so the next decade or so.
[00:39:16] Absolutely. Absolutely. I agree. I agree. I think more folks are sort of coming around to the importance of, of mentorship, you know, um, and not just of young people either. I’ve seen quite a trend of, uh, business businesses doing the same thing where they’re, they’re mentoring young, you know, entry level folks.
[00:39:34] Um, and they’re, they’re getting mentored by folks that are senior in companies and. Um, cause we, we just recognize that we kind of just need each other. We can’t just kind of go it alone. Uh, people need people, you know, and, and we need the intensity of, of those individual experiences.
[00:39:54] Yes. So true.
[00:39:56] Yeah. Yeah. That’s a beautiful way to put it. Hmm. A lot of the, a lot of the people that would listen to this podcast have kind of started their own small organizations, often just a one person band to start with to kind of grow it and run their programs and do some mentoring for young people in their communities um, and so I’d love to hear a little bit about, as a not-for-profit where you find you’re able to get the funding, you know, is it kind of local community businesses who are the main source of support or yeah- would you mind sharing a little about that?
[00:40:36] Yeah. I mean, you know, we have a bit of a unique situation because I don’t know that, that it can, it can apply to as many situations, but we have such a supportive group of donors, you know, that have kind of been around since the beginning so that, um, actually the majority of our funding comes from individual supporters, which is very unique.
[00:40:58] Um, but I do find that. Um, municipalities and in, in small, small governments do give quite a bit of funding, um, for work like this because they, they recognize the importance of youth development. Um, I’m seeing sort of like an increased trend in, in, uh, in, in government agencies providing support this way.
[00:41:20] Um, and you know, I think as well, just the way that we’ve structured programs, there’s a fair amount of support that comes from corporations too. I think that, you know, business communities recognize that, um, they need, um, they need folks that are fulling them themselves, you know, that are, you know, kind of, uh, independent thinkers who can also work in a team. And so we found some businesses that are very supportive of what we do as well for that reason, because they recognize that, ‘Hey, this is actually an issue that is probably the most important issue for, you know, if you’re talking about the economy and that kind of thing.’ Um, so there’s a wide, a wide spectrum, um, of, of ways to get support, you know, but I think it really just starts with, with the passion that you feel, you know, and, and starting by, um, just impressing upon people, the importance of this issue.
[00:42:21] And I think that that excitement that you exude, you know, it it creates a space where people want to help, you know, they want to help. And then the momentum, just builds. Um, and, uh, we have, you know, what we call like a smart start small campaign because we recognize that, you know, every little bit helps, you know, and, and that, that tiny little bit at first may grow into something bigger.
[00:42:45] So I would just encourage anybody doing this kind of work, you know, youth advocacy, um, mentorship programs, um, you know, just to, to start small and be authentic with your passion and people respond to that and, you know, they want to give, they want to support. Um, and they’ll continue supporting, you know, if you’re sort of, kind of staying the course and staying focused on the mission, um, which is, which is the hearts and the hearts of these young people, you know, and just really caring for them. Um, yeah.
[00:43:17] You’d be silly not to support it really wouldn’t you? It’s like future proofing the world, your own life later down the track, if we can kind of make sure that all of these young people are taken care of.
[00:43:29] Exactly. It’s just the sort of like, you know, is there altruism? It is very, no, it’s, it’s, it’s such an essential issue. And I think they forget that we’re, future-proofing, you know, these are the folks that are going to be leaving us. They’re going to be handling, you know, all the curve balls that, that life throws at them in future, you know? And, um, and I just, couldn’t be more excited about, you know, um, just the kindness, you know, that I see in the young people, which is, they don’t really get enough credit for that.
[00:44:02] There’s such kind and warm and they need so little encouragement to sort of find that place in themselves where they want to serve others, you know? Um, and so I just, I think that we all, you know, could use to, to spend some time. I think that there’s there. Um, you know, if you look at Twitter, there’s so much, uh, intergenerational separation, you know, we like to say, ‘oh, these millennials’ are, um, you know, we, we do that quite a bit, but you know, mentorship kind of breaks all that apart. Um, and, and we, we realized that there’s way more, that we’re connected on um, and way more to, to, um, respect, um, intergenerationally than we give ourselves credit for.
[00:44:53] Yeah. I knew when we first met that we could chat for five hours if we allowed ourselves to!
[00:45:02] And we have to just sort of, uh, arrange a time for a virtual coffee or virtual mimosa. I don’t know.
[00:45:12] Yeah, we had to have a whole season of the podcast to make sure all of those chats would be just as worthy of recording.
[00:45:20] Exactly. It’s just too much fun. It’s really enjoyable.
[00:45:24] It’s been so nice hearing a bit more about you Janaiha and your journey and YLF and thinking about the way that you started too, it makes me think of this guest expert, that we have in our Youth Mentor training and he talks about intrapreneurship instead of entrepreneurship and, and the value of, um, yeah, it’s great to go and start your own thing of course, if that’s what you feel like doing, but there’s so much power and value in seeking out a local organization and volunteering and getting started with them and to hear your story of where it began of just starting out with actually being a participant, and then volunteering, to now being the Executive Director is just so inspiring.
[00:46:06] Well, thank you so much for that, Amanda. And that’s, that’s a, that’s a gem.
[00:46:10] I’m going to pass that on to, to every volunteer now. Yeah.
[00:46:16] Yeah. It’s a great concept. Yeah. Even just to get started or just to build confidence or yeah, there’s so much already happening around us, isn’t there that we can get involved in.
[00:46:31] Absolutely. And, and, you know, Amanda, I just want to say so much how much I appreciate you creating this podcast and giving folks like me a space to kind of talk about, um, what, what makes us tick and what makes us passionate.
[00:46:44] Um, it’s such an important issue and I appreciate you sort of creating a platform for it.
[00:46:50] Thank you. I’m so thrilled to have had you on and just get to hear a little snippet of the incredible work that you do and incredible person that you are. Yeah. Thanks. Thank you for that. This has been great.
[00:47:07] Oh, and where can we find you?
[00:47:12] Can visit us online at www.helpingkids.org um, so org and you can find us on Instagram @ylf_dc.
[00:47:25] Amazing. Yeah, incredible. So good – helpingkids.org – that’s a good website!
[00:47:31] I give credit to Dave Cook for that one. A former executive director who just said good job, Dave, but we do we help kids – helpingkids.Org. Yup. No, that’s great. Thank you so much. Thanks so much, Amanda.
[00:47:49] How good was that? Ah, thank you for joining us. After this episode of the youth mentor podcast, if you would like to work with young people or expand your work with young people, then stay tuned. We have a youth mentor conference coming up later this year, which I’ll share more about with you over there over the coming months.
[00:48:08] Um, but I’m so thrilled to be bringing together people like Janaiha and, and probably a bunch of the guests that we have here on the youth mentor podcast together for a few days of sharing, connecting, networking. Um, it’s going to be fantastic. So I’m really, really excited about that. And we’ll be opening up our next round of youth mentor training ah, around the middle of the year as well. So if you’ve been feeling like you would like to be a youth mentor yourself, or you’d like to expand your work with young people and connect in with an incredible community of mentors from around the world, then please reach out to us. Just email us if you like: email@example.com.
[00:48:47] Let us know that you’re interested and we can send you , a bunch of free stuff that we’ve got. Um, and, and let you know when, when the next round is, is getting started. Thanks again for joining us. It’s it’s my absolute joy to be able to have these conversations and get to chat with, with people like to know.
[00:49:04] So, um, thanks for listening and I hope you got something out of it as well. See you in the next episode!
Mentioned in this episode:
And if you want to work with teens too, head to Youthmentors.shinefromwithin.com.au to learn more about our Youth Mentor Training and download the quiz to find out your youth mentor archetype!
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