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Loving discipline

"Loving discipline" Continued...

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," April 24, 2010

For the last six years, Sarah Timmons, a married, white mother of two, has been mentoring Clarise McFarlin, now a poised, black, high-school senior. They met six years ago, when Clarise was 12 years old: She had just moved to Wichita with her mother and was having trouble with the transition to middle school in a brand new state. She didn't find the school counselors much help ("they kept asking me how I was feeling about things on a scale of 1 to 10," she says now, with a laugh), so her mother enrolled her in the Youth Horizons mentoring program. She was paired with Timmons, then a newlywed who had herself recently moved to Wichita.

"I expected us to click fast and for [Clarise] to open up," Timmons says. "That didn't happen right away. I didn't know how to talk to a 12-year-old." But Timmons stuck with it, despite the initial difficulties. "I was always the pursuer and I didn't know how to handle that. I had to learn to just be a consistent faithful person in her life. Somebody who loves her for her."

Through weekly visits that involved trips to the mall, the movies, the botanical gardens, or just to her house, Timmons was able to tear down the barriers, be a friend to Clarise, and even eventually help her become a Christian. Now a graduating senior with plans to study nursing at Kansas State, Clarise expects their relationship, which ends officially at graduation, to continue.

The benefits of having a personal relationship with an individual over the span of years is one of the reasons Youth Horizons emphasizes long-term commitments when engaging new mentors. It asks for a minimum one-year commitment and gets over 70 percent renewal rates after that year, with over 60 percent renewing for two years and beyond.

Donovan Karber, who began with Youth Horizons as a mentor, became Director of Mentoring, and now works for a nationwide umbrella group helping to form new mentoring programs, sees the effects of mentoring beyond the individual relationships: "Most of the families we deal with are not churchgoing families. Over time, as the mentors develop relationships with the kids, they become interested in spiritual things, and then the families do too. So it needs to be long term. We know we can't replace their parents but we can bring in a Christian positive role model who can walk with them through their life."

As youth and mentor become intertwined, benefits increase. Clarise has learned from observing firsthand the early years of Sarah's marriage and the birth of her first two children. "When I hear my friends talk . . . [she shakes her head]. Marriage is forever. I see that it's hard to be married and have kids. I know that when I get married that it's not going to be a fairy tale."

Nor is Youth Horizons a fairy tale story: The recession has forced it to cut business hours and lay off staff, but the program is still building a second residential home on its Kinloch Boys Ranch property, and it hopes eventually to have four, along with a working farm for the residents to manage. The plan is for an increase in mentoring pairs from 140 to 170 and an increased presence in schools so that every school in Wichita, at every grade level, has a partner church that provides mentors for needy students.
Click here to listen to WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky discuss with Alisa Harris the West regional finalists.
To view a video profile of Youth Horizons and of each of the other 2010 regional finalists and to read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2009, visit WORLDmag.com/compassion.

Youth Horizons Factbox

Location: Wichita, Kan.

Founded: 1986

Mission: Provide Christian mentoring to at-risk teens

Size: 9 full-time staff, 140 mentoring relationships, residential house with capacity for eight

Annual Budget: $700,000

Website: www.youthhorizons.net

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