The presence of a trusted adult in one’s life can help make the transition from child to young adult so much easier. When community members step up to serve as mentors to young people in need of a positive role model in their lives, friendships are forged and lives are changed.
No one knows this better than Novi Youth Assistance. Since 1973, the organization has been working to match young people with stable adults they can count on, and in 2018, it partnered with the Novi Public Safety Team to create a new program designed to build bonds between police officers/fire protection officers and the public they serve.
Find a new avenue
According to Detective Julie Warren, coordinator of the Novi Police Department’s mentor program, Novi Youth Assistance is a non-profit 50c3 organization that prides itself on strengthening youth and their families within the community. For nearly 50 years, Novi Youth Assistance has been matching adult volunteers with kids in need through the Mentors Plus Program, the Silver Linings Mentoring Program and now the Novi Public Safety Mentorship Program.
“Officers have been informally mentoring youth in the community for decades, but it wasn’t until one officer, who was a mentor with a local youth, wanted to join with Novi Youth Assistance to form a program specifically where the mentor is a public safety member,” Warren said.
The Novi Public Safety Team believed involving police officers and fire protection officers as youth partners would enhance the existing programs and the Novi Public Safety Mentorship Program was born.
Once a youth is identified as a potential participant in the program, the mentorship coordinator will speak first to the child’s parent/guardian. This is done to determine the interests of the youth and to see if the responsible adult has any additional concerns. After this information is assessed, the mentorship program coordinator will evaluate the participating public safety team members to find one who they believe will be a good match for the young person. Once the match is made, the public safety member will reach out to the parent or guardian to coordinate a meeting between them and the youth. If all goes well, the pair will plan additional activities such as a police ride-along, dinner at a local restaurant, a school visit, sporting event or an evening poring over homework.
Warren said referrals to the program can be made through the Novi Youth Assistance, school principals, counselors, parents/guardians or by a member of the public safety team.
“Currently, there are six public safety team members involved in the program and eight youth,” she said. “Since its inception in 2018, there have been 14 public safety team members involved and 15 mentees who attend school in the Novi Public School District in grades K-12.”
Eudora Yorke was referred to the Novi Public Safety Mentorship Program after looking for a Big Brother program for her boys. She was connected with Officer Blake Webb, who has been a positive influence in her children’s lives.
“My boys enjoy going with Officer Blake to spend time. They have enjoyed fun activities, such as go-kart racing, eating out, video game time, and cooking together. They always look forward to time with him when he is available in person, but he also checks in with them via text message periodically,” she said. “We are truly happy this program is being offered, and as COVID restrictions are lifted, hopefully, they can experience more outings together.”
Warren said communities interested in starting a program similar to the Novi Public Safety Mentorship Program should contact their local youth assistance program and propose a partnership. Then they should start spreading the word so the community knows the program is available. They can do this by speaking to school principals, counselors, and school resource officers in addition to having information about the program on various websites so the word gets to the people who need to know about it the most.
“I’m very proud of the men and women serving on our public safety teams who give tirelessly of their personal and professional time to mentor youth in in our fine community,” said Novi Mayor Bob Gatt. “There is no greater way to build trust than to listen to, mentor and teach our generation the right thing to do.”
However, it’s not only the youngsters who benefit. The goal of the program is for all those involved to grow as individuals, including the parent/guardian, youth and public safety team member themselves. While the focus is understandably on the youth, Warren said the program impacts everyone.
“The youth gain a role model and someone they can talk with. The parent/guardian develops a relationship with someone from the public safety team, and the mentor is afford an additional opportunity to serve the public that they care for so much,” she said. “It is truly a win-win situation.”
This article appeared in the July 2021 issue of The Municipal.